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Place Potential Think Piece Series: Can young people be placemakers? #2

Posted on 15 November 2013

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By Jen Marriott

As a Town Planner by trade, I know all too well that placemaking isn’t easy for anyone anywhere.  It involves a lot of discussion, evidence, consultation, involvement and most importantly decision-making.  In recent years, the government has continued to apply pressure to engage people in planning ensuring they are involved and have their say.  The pinnacle of this has been the Coalition Government thinking around ‘Localism’, ‘Big Society’ and ‘Community Rights’.  Never has the planning system been so open to community involvement with the option for people to initiate and take part in Neighbourhood Planning, Community Right to Build Orders, Community-led Developments and many more.  The whole aim is for communities to become closer to the action.

All of this sounds heartening, but what has any of this got to do with young people?  Young people are part of our communities but they are rarely given the same opportunities to get involved in such matters as adults are.  In my opinion, this needs to change.

Engaging young people in planning is an important and worthwhile task.  Young people are as much a part of our communities as anyone else and they’re going to be living in our cities, towns and villages for a long time.  Young people also have plenty of useful comments to make about their area – they do genuinely care and want to be involved.  It can also benefit young people through raising their awareness of planning issues, helping them feel more connected to their communities, developing a sense of identity and developing their skills and knowledge.  We need to make sure that people (not just planners) realise the need for young people to be involved.

Last year, I spoke with around 60 children aged 13-14 to find out their thoughts about town planning and their responses astounded me:

My question:  Do you think it is important for young people to have a say in the area in which they live, play and go to school?  If yes, why?

Response:  96% of students said yes, it was important and their top 5 responses were:
–    Improve the area for future generations
–    They live there and so should have a say
–    To improve the area
–    Young people should have the same rights as adults
–    Everyone’s opinions should count

The students wanted to know more about transport, heritage and conservation, open spaces, environment, neighbourhood planning and much more.

Is that what you were expecting?  Their responses speak for themselves – they want to be involved and they have things to say.

I’m not saying it is always an easy process – engaging any community isn’t easy – but attempts to engage young people in the past have often made the situation worse.  Steaming into a place with a top-down approach where young people aren’t valued as equal partners to adults and generally aren’t trusted, creates a very difficult situation.  It not only damages that particular project, but also their interest and willingness to become involved in other initiatives.  It’s also important to recognise the value that young people’s opinions have and ensuring they are all taken into consideration or it risks becoming tokenistic and young people can sense that pretty quickly!

I think people jump to conclusions that young people aren’t interested and wouldn’t know what to say but if we just ask them, you’d be surprised at the answer.  The next step is to then engage them in the right way, using the right methods that speak to young people that they can connect to and be part of.  This brings me back to my own work to do more research into the topic and to champion young people’s involvement in my working career too which should hopefully raise awareness of the importance of engaging young people and allowing them to be placemakers.

Jen Marriott is a young planning graduate working in the third sector on community involvement in the historic environment at North of England Civic Trust.

Our Newcastle debate on Wednesday 20 November 2013 asks ‘Can young people be placemakers?’.