Chapter 13 Young People and Placemaking: The Provision of Public Spaces for and by Youth

In: Placemaking in Practice Volume 1
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Carlos Smaniotto Costa Universidade Lusófona, Department of Architecture and Urban Planning Lisbon Portugal

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Marluci Menezes National Laboratory of Civil Engineering Lisbon Portugal

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Tatiana Ruchinskaya TVR Design Consultancy Cambridge UK

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Monica Bocci Unione Montana del Catria e Nerone Cagli Italy

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Matej Nikšič Urban Planning Institute of the Republic of Slovenia Ljubljana Slovenia

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Nina Goršič Urban Planning Institute of the Republic of Slovenia Ljubljana Slovenia

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Mastoureh Fathi University College Cork Cork Ireland

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Abstract

Interests of young people are neither often well considered in public spaces nor in decisions about the environment around them. One of the most important achievements of growing from childhood to adulthood is the development of one’s own social life and increasing one’s autonomy, which also means a widening of one’s spatial range of action. Despite these spatial needs and benefits for their own development, teenagers are often treated with suspicion in public spaces. One will often find them in large groups, standing around, chatting loudly with one another or playing around. Spatial needs, appropriation and practices, on the one side, and social norms, on the other side, do not necessarily match. In an inclusive city, spatial consumption and production is part of a dialogue with citizens, including vulnerable, “undesirable” and marginalized groups, in order to guarantee them not only the access to public spaces, but also their involvement in planning and decision-making processes. Studies show that young people have a great potential to bring unique insights to the built environment. This chapter explores the potential of young people to be involved in placemaking, reflecting on challenges facing such involvement and taking into account the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic. Backed by studies in Cork, Lisbon, Ljubljana, Stockholm and Volos, it addresses the question how to use placemaking to change the city into a more inclusive and responsive environment for young people. These cases demonstrate that placemaking can be used as a tool for engaging young people in the decision-making process about their city and local environment, collating evidence-based research on the relationship between young people and public spaces.

1 Introduction

The United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child spells out a child’s “right to the city”, which includes the call to provide them with the opportunity to participate in local governance (UN, 1989). This chapter explores the potential of young people to contribute to an inclusive placemaking, reflecting on the needs and demands of different age groups dealing with their involvement with public open spaces, henceforth referred to as public spaces. This chapter also takes into account the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic and the mobility restrictions. Backed by studies undertaken in Cork, Lisbon, Ljubljana, Stockholm and Volos, it benchmarks the successful participatory strategies and tools used in place-based research with young people. It intends to provide support for policymaking towards transforming cities into a more inclusive and responsive environment.

This chapter tackles the participation of young people in urban transformation. It follows the PPS (2007) definition of placemaking as a “collaborative process of shaping the public realm in order to maximise shared value”, which implies the importance of paying greater heed to cultural and social identities over a physical place and to the multiple meanings of the physical space. The most recent theoretical perspectives suggest placemaking as an enabling tool in which people share knowledge and learn new skills to transform their own environments (PPS, 2007; Million et al., 2017; Strydom et al., 2018; Menezes et al., 2019). Thus, in successful placemaking initiatives people are agents for and recipients of a safe, healthy and inspiring environment (UN Habitat, 2016). In this context, a “place” is built by geographical, social, cultural, psychological dimensions and with the increasing ubiquity of digital and mobile devices it has a virtual layer, being also a hybrid space (Smaniotto Costa et al., 2019). Such understanding supports the UN’s Agenda 2030 for Sustainable Development (UN, n.d.), which emphasizes the need of making cities more inclusive, creating adequate, safe and affordable environments for all.

2 Defining Young People

This study deals with the provision of public spaces for and by youth, and it identifies the need for clarifying inclusiveness in the urban context. Defining the term “youth” (or “adolescent”) seems to be a difficult task, as several researchers, government agencies and organizations adopt different definitions and propose variegated stages based on age. While the UNO Convention on the Rights of the Child defines a youth as someone from 18 years of age (and children as people aged 0 to 17 years) (UN, 1989), the World Health Organization defines someone aged 10 to 19 as an adolescent (WHO, 2006). This study uses the stages of adolescence proposed by Healthy Children (n.d.), as early adolescence (aged 10 to 13), middle adolescence (14–17), late adolescence (18–21), and youth (19–25). The age range for youth overlaps that of late adolescence because it serves the purpose of our study. Henceforth we use the terms “adolescent” and “youth” when we discuss the age groups, and we use the term “young people” when we speak about the group as a whole. Each age encompasses various needs, individually and within their peer group (Healthy Children, n.d.). The expectations, roles and duration of adolescence also differs in different cultures (Strasburger et al., 2006). In spite of the differences, there is a common process of self-discovery in adolescence. The desire of identifying oneself in multiple ways outside the family increases adolescents’ needs to explore different environments (Childress, 2004). This means that with increasing age adolescents are able or allowed to roam and explore their neighbourhoods, and become one of the frequent users of public spaces.

Policymakers and planners have a vision of adolescents based on a paradigm of dependence, in which they have the right to the city, to benefit from it (to circulate and to play), but they are not allowed to participate in making it. This perpetuates the adult hegemony over space, as adults assume that attributing responsibilities to youngsters would compromise their right to a childhood and because youngsters are not yet able to exercise responsibilities, hence shouldn’t be granted rights (Valentine, 2004; Laughlin & Johnson, 2011; Batista et al., 2019). Adolescents are thus caught in a balancing act between a paradigmatic dependency (as a recipient of rights) and pragmatic gain (as co-creators of their own environment). This balancing situation is at the core of place governance, as Storring (2021) reminds us, as top-down urban planning is about “who has power, who does what, and how it will get paid for”. As Lefebvre (1991, p. 143) writes, “space lays down the law because it implies a certain order – and hence ascertain disorder”. These issues significantly affect placemaking. Considering that adolescents like to be part of a peer group, often chatting, laughing loudly and playing around in public (Strasburger et al., 2006; Healthy Children, n.d.), their behaviour is often treated as a threat by other users, and they are considered undesirable in sharing the public realm (Smaniotto Costa & Patrício, 2020). Such an understanding of adolescents does not conform to the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child (UN, 1989), which acknowledges them as active participants in development and transmitters of positive values and resources of production (UN, 1989).

Studies show that young people have a great potential to bring unique insights to the built environment (Elsley, 2006; Laughlin & Johnson, 2011; Nikšič et al., 2018; Smaniotto Costa et al., 2021), which calls for aiming policies and strategies at their full and active participation in urban space production.

3 Materials and Methods

A comparative study of cases from the different cities backed up with a literature review was conducted to analyse, assess different aspects of teenagers and youth, placemaking and participatory approaches (Creswell, 2013, 2014; Yin, 1994, 2018). It covers the range of young people ages from 10 to 18, since each age group has particular needs and possibilities to actively participate in placemaking.

The methodological approach is based on comparative urbanism (Nijman, 2007), focusing on a systematic identification of key processes, their different articulation and their inter-contextual interpretation. It uses an established common framework and follows the basic stages: documentation of the five cases based mainly on reviewing the data/information and literature. The overview of gathered data is presented in Table 13.1. It is followed by a detailed description, focused on the research questions, methodology, research context and the results of each case. In a second step, the gained data, and their potential impact were detected and explained. The issues raised are cross analysed, the overview of results is presented in Table 13.2 and checked against the key aspects sensed in the literature review.

4 Cases

Backed by case studies in Cork, Lisbon, Ljubljana, Stockholm and Volos, this chapter brings together experiences of different age groups of young people in placemaking. Since each case had its own objectives and used different methodologies, this study aims to perform an analysis of the main results of the single experiences in placemaking with young people and present evidence-based insights on the relationship between young people and public spaces. Table 13.1 provides an overview on the summarized data from the cases.

Table 13.1
Table 13.1

An overview of the age groups involved in the cases

4.1 Ljubljana: Extracurricular Activities at School Can Empower Adolescents to Participate in Placemaking

4.1.1 Objectives

The project in Ljubljana took place at the Danile Kumar primary school in the district of Bežigrad. The aim was to develop extracurricular activities that would provide adolescents with experience in urban design and empower them to take an active role in redesigning public places in their neighbourhood.

4.1.2 Context

The activities took place in Ruski Car (Russian Tsar), one of the largest and most densely populated neighbourhoods of Ljubljana. Built in the 1970s, the neighbourhood has an urban layout characterized by two long rows of multi-storey blocks of flats with a public space in-between. In the first decades after its construction, the public space acted as a social space of the neighbourhood, characterized by spontaneous encounters and children’s play. These days this public space, due to the changes in lifestyles, is rarely used for social activities and was turned into a transition space between the different parts of the neighbourhood.

The co-creation activities were organized between 2014 and 2018 to collect ideas to revitalize the public space. The research showed that locals lack the knowledge and skills to initiate a bottom-up process, making clear that institutional leadership was required (Nikšič, 2021).

4.1.3 Research Framework

Seven thematic workshops under the title “Neighbourhood, Public Space and the Active Role of Inhabitants” were run together with the Urban Planning Institute of the Republic of Slovenia, the Museum of Architecture and Design and Skupaj na ploščad!, a local initiative. The activities were carried out with the fifth grade students at the Danile Kumar primary school. Students had the opportunity to interact with an interdisciplinary team of professionals and educators in the fields of architecture, landscape architecture and art history. The important issues of urban design with the emphasis on public places, urban heritage and active citizenship were addressed in a playful way in a series of lectures, debates and hands-on workshops, aiming to encourage students to play an active role in placemaking (fig. 13.1). The leading themes of the seven workshops were as follows:

  • My city and my street

  • My neighbourhood through the camera lenses

  • The quality of public space

  • Urban space and urban harmony

  • Visit to the Museum of Architecture and Design: A neighbourhood through an exhibition

  • When architecture meets nature

  • Let’s meet on the street

Figure 13.1
Figure 13.1
Photography is a great tool for young adolescents to learn about the design of the urban environment
Photo: Blaž Jamšek, © UIRS

One of the aims was to generate new ideas to improve local parks, streets, squares and like spaces to turn them into better places for everybody. Through the play students learned about various professions involved in urban design. The most popular activity was the hands-on workshops, such as the construction of the “bee and bird hotel”, where students learnt how added function can change the character of urban places (fig. 13.2). They also liked to use digital photography when discussing assets and problems of their home streets.

Figure 13.2A
Figure 13.2A
Workshops on building a bird and bee hotel and placing it in the neighbourhood
Photo: Blaž Jamšek, © UIRS

The students were encouraged to share the knowledge about urban improvements through homework and discuss placemaking with their families and relatives. As a result, some family members joined some participatory activities in the neighbourhood.

4.1.4 Results

The students acquired new knowledge through a range of playful activities and developed their own ideas by conducting field analyses, making scale models and carrying out hands-on interventions in public places. They were given an opportunity to realize the importance of spatial issues, develop skills to express opinions about urban problems, produce action plans and implement them in a collaborative manner. The project showed how extracurricular school activities could be the successful tools to empower young people to participate in placemaking.

4.2 Stockholm: Involving Young Girls in Co-creation Activities Contributes to the Well-being of All

4.2.1 Objectives

Recent research has revealed that Swedish children and teenagers, in particular teenage girls, do not often engage in daily physical exercise (Nivå Landskapsarkitektur, 2020). This project aimed to create space in a park in Bredäng, a suburb of Stockholm, for spontaneous dance, play and sports for teenagers and the wider community. An existing football pitch, which was mainly used for organized sports events for boys and men, was proposed for redesign. To provoke changes, a workshop with local residents, in particular with girls, was organized. The case shows that placemaking involving a broad participation of residents is able to contribute not only to the creation of a better public realm, but also encourages people to engage in daily physical exercise (fig. 13.3). During the pandemic, the Swedish government avoided imposing severe restrictions and lockdowns, thus it remained possible for people to engage in outdoor activities. In this context, placemaking that supports outdoor activities for all age groups – and especially for young people – has a clear value.

Figure 13.3
Figure 13.3
A view of the Bredäng Park playground, including different zones for dance and play
Photo: Robin Hayes, 2020

4.2.2 Context

The district of Bredäng is situated within the city district of Skärholmen in the south-western parts of the Stockholm municipality. Bredäng has a population of nearly 10,000, 70% of whom are newcomers (fig. 13.4). A large majority of residents live in multifamily houses, in rental units owned by private and public landlords (Agdahil & Engström, 2017). The neighbourhood was built between 1963 and 1965 as part of the Million Programme (Miljonprogrammet), a large public housing program implemented in Sweden in the 1960s and 1970s to ensure the availability of affordable, high-quality housing for all. Bredäng is not only known for its green and blue qualities (Agdahil & Engström, 2017), but also for the poor quality of its public spaces and its monotone architecture (Häggblom, 2016). Under the current plans for the urban development of Stockholm, the city shall become a coherent and dense urban environment and will see an increase in modernist planning (Häggblom, 2016). Planning debates about Bredäng highlight its historic, modernist and contemporary values, and the continuum of its urban landscapes, in which open spaces play a basic role. The focus on open spaces is also central in the study of Agdahil and Engström (2017), as they consider public spaces the field of interaction for planning approaches. However, this continuum is difficult to perceive as some green spaces are public, such as parks, while others, such as courtyards between the buildings, are semi-public or private. Bredäng Park is one of these public spaces and it requires a new design. The approach was to encourage the involvement of different stakeholders, with a special regard to young girls, and then widen the involvement of their families.

Figure 13.4
Figure 13.4
An aerial view of Bredäng district
Photo: Robin Hayes, 2020

4.2.3 Research Framework

Different planning visions for the future of the Bredäng suburb have been discussed and large- and small-scale interventions have been defined. The vision that inspired the redesign of Bredäng Park was small-scale, with a placemaking approach centred on involving young girls into a co-creative process (fig. 13.5). The overarching goal is to encourage teenagers to engage in outdoor activities, contributing to the well-being of other age groups by encouraging them to spend time together.

Figure 13.5
Figure 13.5
Placemaking process involved girls, families and residents in living labs
Photo: Robin Hayes, 2020

4.2.4 Results

It is not common to set up a focus group involving young girls. The crucial input has been the involvement of their families and other residents with the aim to design a space for outdoor activities accessible “for everyone”. The project proposed a new function to the football pitch, providing space for spontaneous physical activities, such as dances, creating a meeting place for everyone, where friends, siblings, parents, relatives and residents could spend time together (Nivå Landskapsarkitektur, 2020) (fig. 13.6). The new space is more valued due the incorporation of a multitude of activities and functions. It provides residents the opportunity to be together, enhancing their social life and enabling them to engage in outdoor and physical activities (fig. 13.7). Though Bredäng had a negative image in the past, the new suburban intervention demonstrated a successful example of inclusive placemaking (Bocci, 2021).

Figure 13.6
Figure 13.6
From a bird’s-eye view of the playground it is possible to distinguish all the different play areas and equipment
Photo: Robin Hayes, 2020
Figure 13.7
Figure 13.7
Young people and their families enjoying the playground
Photo: Robin Hayes, 2020

4.3 Lisbon: Co-creation of a Teenager-sensitive Public Space Using Their Spatial Knowledge and Practices

4.3.1 Objectives

The study explored teenage student’s views and experience in public space in the Alvalade neighbourhood in Lisbon. It was part of the C3Places project (funded by Horizon 2020, a European Union framework programme funding research, technological development and innovation) and aimed at advancing knowledge on the spatial practices of teenagers (aged 13–18), and together with the teenage students co-create a design of a public space that meets their needs and preferences. The project also analysed whether teenagers’ perspectives are reflected in local policies.

4.3.2 Context

The case study in Lisbon opened the opportunity for collaborative and co-creative practices to explore the involvement of teenagers in placemaking, together with the local secondary school and the parish council of the Alvalade neighbourhood. Alvalade is a paradigmatic neighbourhood, as it was implemented following a master plan from 1940. Although well planned, it failed to provide adequate opportunities for young people to socialize and interact outdoors. The wide street space in front of the school was identified by the students as their most commonly used public space, where they congregate and socialize using the bus stop shelter, the bike rental station or just sitting on the sidewalks (Smaniotto Costa et al., 2020, 2021).

4.3.3 Research Framework

Urban living labs with teenagers were used in the course of the C3Places project to address the question of what a teenager-sensitive space looks like. The research programme for the labs encompassed different methods and tools, such as thematic workshops, exploratory site visits in the neighbourhood, surveys, discussions and debates sessions (fig. 13.8). The labs were complemented with other methods and techniques of data collection (fig. 13.9), such as collaborative ethnography, field observations and interviews with local planning experts. Space observations enabled us to obtain an overview of the whole neighbourhood and outlined the public spaces used particularly by teenagers. The advancements of digital and mobile technologies opened new ways to increase research, engage with stakeholders and create new participatory dynamics.

Figure 13.8
Figure 13.8
Teenage students mapping their views on the quality of public spaces
Photo: C3Places Project, 2020
Figure 13.9
Figure 13.9
A weaving loom in the school hall was used to capture the patterns of use of public spaces by the teenage students
Photo: C3Places Project, 2019

4.3.4 Results

The living labs explored opportunities for involving teenagers in co-creation of the space near their local school, providing a platform for learning and developing ideas about public spaces. The project helped to increase the understanding of the role of teenagers and school government in decision-making through a series of labs with the participation of the local government. The main needs identified by the teenagers were related to the general improvement of the place, proposing suitable equipment and furniture for seating in groups. To increase the space quality, a series of other issues were raised, including public accessibility, in particular for disabled people, road safety and improving greenery and shading. As a result, two different designs of the space were proposed by the teenagers.

During the lab, the school government and representatives from the local council expressed a vision of the involvement of adolescents in local planning. The participation of teachers and council representatives in joint sessions confirmed the paradigm of dependency of adolescents on adults’ decisions (fig. 13.10).

Figure 13.10
Figure 13.10
The programme of the living labs was extensively discussed with the school government and representatives from the local council
Photo: C3Places project, 2019

4.4 Volos: Historical and Cultural Topics Presented by Digital Tools Contributed to Increased Participation of Teenagers and Students in Placemaking

4.4.1 Objectives

The Volos case study is based on two projects. The first project was run by the City Museum of Volos and aimed to raise awareness of teenagers about the history of past disasters in Volos and disaster management using digital games (Dandoulaki & Andriadi, 2016). The second project aimed to involve students at the University of Thessaly in placemaking as creators (fig. 13.11). They committed to build a memory map of Volos in digital form by collecting different data from the residents and visitors of the city (EINS Project, 2014; VolosGeist, 2014).

Figure 13.11
Figure 13.11
The spirit of the neighbourhoods in Volos
Photo: Volos, 2019

4.4.2 Context

The City Museum of Volos collected historical memories on local disasters, including earthquakes and floods, and information on the recovery from these disasters. The information was gathered from interviews with key stakeholders and the community in formal and informal refugee camps (e.g. Mozas) and stories of refugees, settled at neighbourhood Nea Ionia in Volos. The collected life stories were used in the digital game for teenagers based on a treasure hunt. The game was linked with the exhibition of the City Museum, through the scanning of QR codes on the museum premises.

Students at the University of Thessaly initiated the production of a memory map of Volos. They used One Minute web game for crowdsourcing, covering the whole city with photos of 354 places. It attracted over 250 participants in less than three days. The project managed to crawl 1180 foursquare places and over 17,000 tweets. As a result, a digital memory map was produced, showing the most popular places in the city for different respondents. Places mostly visited by men were sport cafés and strip clubs, and women highly rated beauticians and hair salons. Locals were going frequently to city council offices and tourists visited landmarks. Non-central locations and places with no context were not rated as popular locations. The visited places were annotated by the dominant sounds and smells. The social map collected individual experiences of the city and contributed to the construction of local identity.

4.4.3 Research Framework

Digital tools were successfully used in both projects. The digital game for teenagers connected the exhibition in the City Museum of Volos with information on disaster management and stories about peoples’ behaviour during the earthquake of 1955. Students at the University of Thessaly used the digital platforms Foursquare and Twitter to collect different sources of data about Volos and combine this data in the memory map of the city.

4.4.4 Results

The Volos case study demonstrated that historical and cultural topics interpreted and presented by digital tools contributed to increased participation of teenagers and students in placemaking.

Teenagers were engaged in the placemaking as active users. Students were initiators; they looked for opportunities and places which could satisfy their needs for raising their self-esteem and identity and their need for social interactions. In both cases, historical and cultural memories, stored in objects and memories, associated with the places and based on events of the past contributed to form young people’s common identity.

As teenagers know little of their history, it was easy to engage them to learn the historical topic by web game. Students preferred to be “actors” but also chose to use digital tools to create their own forms of interactions with the city.

4.5 Cork: The Sense of Inclusion and Exclusion in Society Provided by Public Places

4.5.1 Objectives

The Cork case study is based on a project called Youth Home, a Horizon 2020 project aimed to understand what “home” means to young migrant men. The main objectives of the project revolved around the notion of home and belonging among young migrants who have official permission to stay in Ireland either through the refugee route or through securing a study visa, and are from countries from outside Europe. In order to understand home, the study focused on two spaces: the private and the public spheres.

4.5.2 Context

Home for migrants can mean a variety of concepts (Mallett, 2004), but in terms of spatial angles, home is regarded as multi-scalar, and these scales are usually divided between private and public spaces (Fathi, 2022). It is connected to the sense of belonging and thus to the sense of inclusion and exclusion in society, a feeling that was expressed by participants who are different from the mainstream of Irish society. The study is set in Cork, the second largest city in Ireland. Cork has two large universities that attract a large cohort of international students. Due to the strong industrial and service sector, there are lots of job opportunities that attract young workers to the city.

4.5.3 Research Framework

Twenty male participants took part in the multistage ethnography study that included ten international students and ten refugees aged between 19 and 25. The methods included walking interviews, a “taste of home” method, photography of urban areas, photography of domestic spaces and re-interviewing.

Each walking interview in the city of Cork lasted between two and five hours. The conversation during the walk was recorded using a microphone and photos were taken at the same time from the urban spaces the participants felt at home. The methodology in this research was informed by a plethora of research in human geography and urban sociology that uses visual, narrative and walking methods to understand home (Brickell, 2011; Blunt & Dowling, 2006; Tolia-Kelly, 2004; Walsh, 2011).

4.5.4 Results

Understanding home in the public spaces is about who is included in that space and who is not. The meaning of home as such is entangled with the sense of belonging (and belonging to identity) that it is vital to think of how a sense of belonging is fostered within the public spaces of European cities. It was noted that despite attempts in recent years to make Cork a migrant- and youth-friendly city, there is much work to be done to improve the sense of belonging to the city. Participants referred to “little pockets” in the city that reminded them of aspects of their identity and culture that could be used as spaces of care (Amin, 2002). The spaces migrants discussed in their walking interviews were shallow and meaningful only provisionally (Fathi & Ní Laoire, 2021).

5 Discussion

The empirical studies span the period from 2014 to 2020 and include both quantitative and qualitative surveys. They confirm that a public space is not only a physical structure, but a social interplay between the environment and its users, where individuals and social groups produce an urban-social world through their everyday practices (Lefebvre, 1991; Smaniotto Costa et al., 2019). An overview of results of the case studies is presented in Table 13.2.

Table 13.2
Table 13.2

An overview of the main findings from the cases

The activities carried out in Ljubljana and Lisbon with adolescents reveal the importance of increasing their literacy in relation to the urban space and providing them tools to reflect and create new ideas for their own space. The Stockholm case shows that giving a voice to an often excluded group (adolescent girls) can not only make public places more inclusive, but also raises the interest in physical activities of the wider community. The Volos case allows us to emphasize the importance of digital games to involve adolescents in placemaking, creating new opportunities for territorial empowerment based on working with history and memory. The Cork case reveals that for young migrants the sense of home in the public spaces is connected with the idea of belonging and inclusion.

The analysis of the cases identified six key needs of young people: networking/socializing, playable encounters, interaction/inclusive uses, road safety/pedestrian priority, identity/sense of ownership and comfort (fig. 13.12). Tackling these needs could be a driving force for making cities more youth friendly, as they include the call for everyday freedoms (play, networking, socializing, etc.), friendly infrastructure (safe roads and pedestrian priority) and provision of opportunities to raise their self-confidence (identity and a sense of ownership). These needs could be met by providing multifunctional spaces – beyond the children’s playground at the neighbourhood scale.

Figure 13.12
Figure 13.12

A diagram identifying some of the key needs of young people raised from the cases presented

6 Placemaking Experiences

6.1 Early Adolescence (Ages 10–13)

The experience of the extracurricular activities in Ljubljana and Volos confirms that adolescents are fully capable of developing and articulating their own ideas for their local environments once they are taught the “spatial language”. Both cases also show the importance of playful encounters – in the case of Ljubljana, it was clear that a set of thematic events needed to be intertwined with a fair amount of play in order to keep the interest and active involvement of adolescents throughout the process. Early adolescents have strong ties with their peers and parents, which means that the activities with and for adolescents are followed by larger groups of people. This put adolescents in the position of placemaking ambassadors.

The important role of digital facilities has been recognized within this age group, when it is provided in public places. It encouraged adolescents to capture their interest in the history and culture of the area while visiting places and to share insights they gained. The language used to address this age group in presenting the historic information was as important as the content. In other words, adolescents were engaged in placemaking as active users with playful encounters as a key to its success.

6.2 Middle Adolescence (14–17)

This age group is learning to balance between dependence and independence within its social relationships (Szwedo et al., 2017). The independence from parents is replaced by peer relationships and group activities. Anti-social behaviour in public spaces is often associated with large groups of middle adolescents. The cases show that teenagers gain legitimacy in the city by using the space, and by active participation in placemaking they exercise their “right to the city”, which is not only the right to access urban resources, but it is also the process of acquiring responsibilities for the environment and learning new skills (Harvey 2008; Smaniotto Costa et al., 2020, 2021).

It was noted that municipalities maintain a limited vision about young people’s rights to the city and the benefits of their participation in decision- making. The Lisbon and Stockholm cases show that young people can be powerful agents in the creation of better public places and confirm that a child/youth-friendly approach to urban planning leads to positive outcomes for the wider community. The experience in Stockholm highlights that placemaking should also address gender equity and, in particular, the opportunity for girls to discuss their needs and enjoy the successful outcome of improvements. The case of Lisbon serves as an example that engaging young people in urban planning practices is anchored in institutional discourses, however, the willingness to share power and responsibility in decisions with them is not always present. These shortcomings are viewed by public administration from the paradigmatic (the child as a subject of rights) and the pragmatic (the child as an instrument of general political performance) sides.

The co-creation process with adolescents reveals that they are interested in the quality of spaces and include in their ideas issues which benefit the wider community.

6.3 Late Adolescence (18–21), Overlapping the Last Stage Age between 19 and 25

This age group are independent minded. They prefer to be urban “actors” and create their own forms of interactions with the city. In Volos, students were looking for opportunities and places which can satisfy their needs for raising their self-esteem and confirming their identity, and their need for social interactions with others. It was a good innovation to encourage them to use digital devices in their project as they opened new opportunities to involve a wider community and encouraged the students to learn new skills and experience the local culture.

Although the cases demonstrated that each age group has its own way of developing spatial relationships, there is evidence of common points. The cases highlight the importance of strong leadership. For example, in Stockholm it was a local group created by the district administration, in Lisbon it was a secondary school and in Volos it was the City Museum and the University of Thessaly. The Urban Planning Institute of the Republic of Slovenia and a local school took the leadership in Ljubljana. The successful role of partnerships with the school and local administration was evident in Lisbon; in Ljubljana, it was noted that youth-friendly leaders encouraged all locals to actively participate in providing learning opportunities in public places for informal education (Richards & Raymond, 2000). Adding issues of placemaking to the school curriculum in Ljubljana and Lisbon, and using living labs, proved to be a successful strategy for increasing urban literacy.

It is well known that young people give value to digital facilities and experiences which public places are able to offer. The cases of Ljubljana and Volos demonstrate that digital technologies were useful tools for involving young people in placemaking. In particular, in Volos young people were encouraged to use digital tools to enrich the understanding of the history of the city. Young people in Volos saw their identity in being part of a local community, connecting it not only to the place of work and study, access to new technologies and consumption, but also linking it to the history and cultural heritage of their city. That is why cultural memories, shared by a particular group of people, associated with the places and based on events of the past were useful tools to engage youngsters to placemaking (Assmann & Czaplicka, 1995; Assmann, 2008).

7 Placemaking in Light of the Covid-19 Outbreak

The Covid-19 pandemic presents a major challenge to the people’s lives. To prevent the spread of the virus, governments introduced policies that restricted people’s movements. These measures forced people to interact with their immediate surroundings in new ways. This surfaced deep inequities in the distribution of public spaces across the cities (Simon, 2021). As the OECD (2020) asserts, health problems and the virus spread were not related to urban density, but rather to structural inequalities and the quality of urbanization. Deprived areas have less public spaces per capita, which necessarily increased the potential of crowding.

Lockdown measures such as homeschooling and working from home encouraged young people to stay at home. UN Habitat (2020) notes that public spaces are important assets to prevent the spread of Covid-19. They encourage changes in habits of young people. It was noted that in Stockholm young people frequently attended public spaces during the pandemic for daily exercises. After the easing of Covid-19 restrictions in Ljubljana, Lisbon and Volos, young people met in public places more often than before the pandemic. In Lisbon there was a sudden rise of intensity in the use of public spaces by adolescents to carry out activities (e.g. picnics) that they used to do indoors (e.g. shopping centres).

The literature search confirmed that digital technologies can provide useful support before, during and after disasters (Ruchinskaya & Lalenis, 2020). In this framework, the experience of using cultural memories of past disasters in digital games in Volos was a useful tool for raising disaster awareness.

8 Conclusions

The analysed cases show that several neighbourhoods in Lisbon, Stockholm and Volos have a deficiency in public spaces, which can satisfy young people’s needs, pushing them to hang out at bus stops, in playgrounds and on sidewalks, causing inconvenience for other users and creating a wrong image of young people as troublemakers. The case in Lisbon shows that young people do not claim an exclusiveness in public space; they are willing to share spaces and call for increasing the quality and inclusiveness of spaces. Estrela and Smaniotto Costa (2019) assert that territorial education opens new ways for young people to understand their environment, while placemaking enables them to actively co-create it and participate in decision-making (PPS, 2007). This study proves that young people have a right to access urban resources, advocates opportunities for young people to participate in placemaking and to create their own content in public spaces and raises questions of equality of genders and ages during placemaking activities. Unfortunately, only small efforts have been made to give voices to young people in the designing and decision-making about their environment. On the flip side, the cases indicate that young people can be agents in placemaking and that their participation in the co-creation of their environment results in more inclusive public spaces, which also encourage healthy life and active citizenship.

The current epidemiological situation connected with Covid-19 still brings new challenges and dilemmas in understanding values of public spaces, which are able to provide physical, social and psychological health of the population in general and, specifically, for children and adolescents. To address some dilemmas brought about by the pandemic, digital technologies can play a pivotal role. In this sense, it is important to consider that digitalization implies that physical spaces will (or have) become a hybrid space. If the goal is to develop more sustainable and liveable environments, research must focus on quality – how to meet people’s spatial needs in their immediate vicinity.

Acknowledgements

The case study of Lisbon has been supported by the project C3Places – Using ICT for Co-creation of Inclusive Public Places,1 funded under Horizon 2020, a European Union framework programme funding research, technological development and innovation (grant agreement no. 693443) and financed by Portuguese funds by FCT (Fundação para a Ciência e a Tecnologia, I.P.). The case study of Ljubljana was partly supported by the Creative Europe Programme within the Human Cities project and partly by the Slovenian Research Agency (research core funding no. P5-0100).

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Placemaking in Practice Volume 1

Experiences and Approaches from a Pan-European Perspective

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