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Place Potential Think Piece Series: Can young people be placemakers? #1

Posted on 13 November 2013

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By Glass-House Enabler Catherine Greig

This question makes me want to shout a resounding YES! I believe that the people best placed to shape change in their neighbourhood are those who live, work and play there and this includes people of all ages, from all backgrounds.  To me this is a little like asking ‘can anybody be a placemaker?’ Well of course they can and they should be encouraged to.

Very often it is young people who are using our public spaces at all times of day and all seasons of the year – even the days when we are safely tucked up inside staying warm, they fearlessly brave the outdoors. It is certainly tough being at an age without money of your own, and with no definitive place to spend free time outside of the home, so where are they meant to go? Many people feel seriously concerned if young people are out in public ‘loitering’ in groups of more than two – I find that almost discriminating. It is no small coincidence that shopping centres act as informal meeting places for young people; they provide a warm and dry alternative to being in a park or on a street corner.

The mistrust of young people influencing anything concerns me.  If we really want people to have a civic voice to get involved in change in their neighbourhoods, why would we dictate that this can only start once considered an adult? I am sure I am not alone in wanting better quality places but I think we need to encourage more demand for such places and support people to raise their awareness of what is possible at any age.

If we really want to change the way that people influence the public spaces that are created and embed a philosophy of community led design then I think we need to map out how we get this to happen and what better place to start than with young people?  ‘The youth of today’ will be looking after public places in the future so we need to involve them and have them share the responsibility rather than creating spaces people feel no attachment for in the future.

Often the vibrancy and ‘people watching’ we enjoy in our public spaces is generated by the young – okay perhaps my parents and their friends are just as capable of providing some gawping opportunities in public! Yet it is young people that society seems to feel the most collective concern towards being outside and yet they provide so much joy, energy and fresh experiences when they are given permission to use public spaces in a public way.

One of the best feelings for a designer is seeing something you’ve drawn or modeled realized, but it is even better when you have worked closely with a group of young people whose voices are so often ignored and you see their pride when a project finishes and they say ‘I made that’.

Catherine is a Glass-House Enabler and Founder and Director of make:good, a design agency that puts people at the heart of change in the neighbourhood. Working with people of all ages, Catherine is particularly passionate about engaging young people in projects and ensuring that their often ignored voice is heard.