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Talking to teenagers – creating inclusive outside spaces

Reflections

Why don’t all young people feel welcome in our public spaces? How can we design inclusively to help more teenagers feel safe, accepted and encouraged to use parks, recs and greens? What does better look like?

This is the challenge Make Space for Girls poses to planners, developers and place makers. The group works with the built environment across the country to encourage new ways of thinking, championing the voices of young people – especially girls and young women – in the planning process.

Does play policy create barriers?

The charity’s mission is not to create barriers for boys but to design-in girls and other teens whose needs aren’t always considered in play space for older children.

Make Space for Girls points to multiple studies and its own research showing that feeling unsafe, vulnerable or excluded in parks is a common experience for young people. Yet, if we get them right, well-designed outside spaces can have a hugely positive impact on teenagers’ social, mental and physical wellbeing.

Although well-intentioned, policies, strategies and guidance around recreation spaces can focus on skateparks, multi-use games areas (MUGAs) and BMX tracks.

Large open or caged games areas can be territorial or feel intimidating. While smaller play areas are designed for young children, teens can often feel excluded and can be told to stay away from the swings and roundabouts.  

With policy inadvertently limiting opportunities for innovative play space, the industry can understandably be discouraged from making bolder design decisions to create spaces that will have real impact for young people in the community.

What do teenagers actually want?

Engagement with young people reveals that MUGAs and skateparks aren’t actually top of the wish list for many teenagers. One study from Yorkshire Sport saw swings, trampolines, play and adventure equipment for older children rank higher with both boys and girls.

Make Space for Girls also highlights the importance of sociable seating, circular walking loops, stages, performance areas and shelter. Its not about turning our backs on skateparks and MUGAs but looking at what else can be incorporated into a space to make them more inviting and support play, relaxation and socialising as well as sport.

How can we encourage conversation?

It was fascinating to hear from Make Space for Girls’ co-founder Imogen Clark at a recent Women in Property webinar and explore all these issues in more detail and discuss how we can all contribute to positive systemic changes.

It’s no surprise that at Meeting Place we think talking to teenagers is an important part of the solution and it’s so worthwhile if you get it right.

Our recommended approach follows a few simple rules:

  • Development can be a long process and bringing ideas to life can take a long time – so getting the timing, tone and scope of influence right is crucial.
  • Don’t wait for teenagers to come to us. We need to go to them if we want to share their time and experience. Whether that’s through engagement with schools, community organisations, adults they already know and trust or activities they already enjoy.
  • Creative, constructive and relatable engagement is essential so that young people can freely express their views and explore new ideas. Thinking beyond the typical tools of engagement.
  • Asking the right questions is vital to meaningful conversations, as is really listening to what they have to say. Young people think more freely than many adults and can help us remove some of our own self-imposed barriers to be more imaginative about the spaces we build.

 

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