Where are the Wild Things?

Last month Planning Magazine carried an opinion piece on young people’s involvement (or lack of) in planning entitled “Teen Fiction: myths and realities around young people and planning” which was written by our Liane. You can download a copy of it here.

She argued that there are a number of pervasive myths surrounding young people in planning that dominate how young people are treated in the planning process. This is especially around young people’s perception of planning as a profession, their competencies and skills and their enthusiasm for engagement in planning. However, there is compelling research and project evidence to contradict these assertions and point to the reality of young people’s experience of planning being positive and empowering. 

Liane’s article focussed on dispelling these myths using examples of positive engagement with young people in planning from around the UK, and cited research from academia and the private sector on the barriers and obstacles to engaging young people in planning.

Discussions of young people and place are dominated by themes of post-code rivalry, gang behaviour and territoriality. The activities they are associated with, such as congregating in public areas, challenge popular notions of what public space is for. They are also grossly misrepresented in mainstream media. This is unhelpful and serves to obscure the countless positive examples of young people shaping their wider communities.

Liane thinks it is important to tackle the confusing dialogue around young people’s role in planning. At a time when the planning profession is looking to reclaim its reputation from charges of being overly-bureaucratic to being more dynamic, creative and modern; the acid test is its attractiveness to young people. She also believes that we can learn a lot from young people’s use of and perception of the built environment as a place for discovery and possibility. To counter the tendancy for controlled and mangerial approaches to design and planning, we need the Wild Things to be more present in planning!

Young people can have a very direct and intimate connection to space and place. Activities like skateboarding, BMX, free-running, urban exploration, demand they experience the topography with their entire body and mind. They negotiate its various planes, calculate the risk and dividends, feel the contours and the poetry of its surfaces and forms.

Colin Ward was a British anarchist writer. He has been called “one of the greatest anarchist thinkers of the past half century, and a pioneering social historian. In The Child in the City (1978), Ward “examined the everyday spaces of young people’s lives and how they can negotiate and re-articulate the various environments they inhabit. In his earlier text, the more famous of the two, Colin Ward explores the creativity and uniqueness of children and how they cultivate ‘the art of making the city work’ that is lost as we develop into adults. He argued that through play, appropriation and imagination, children can counter adult-based intentions and closed interpretations of the built environment.

We forget to feel, touch and see beyond the prescribed view of space with its fixed horizontal dimensions, and see its wildness and potential. It just becomes a container for stuff and things. This raw and wild view of urban space opens our eyes to what it can be capable of. And we would see how comfortable and complacent we have become with the crushing predictability of our public spaces, how we have become so blatantly won over by the “spectacle” of designer living, how carelessly we plan for a future beyond the immediate blink of a speculative eye.

Young people have strong senses of place and their identity is equally strongly connected to that. They are also the future custodians of the places we are building and designing now. It is vital they have a say and an input into how they are shaped.  

From our experience of working with young people here at Mend, we have found their love of flexing their communication tools and efficiency around mobilising on an issue an incredible resource, which is often underused in planning and engagement more generally. Young people love to share and talk! Smart technological tools and social media will help us do this and harness the lust for information and sharing that all young people have. But do we always listen or value their contribution?

We love woking with young people and experimenting with different ways to involve them in conversation about their place. We take the conversation to them and let the good stuff run wild.

If William Blake were still here, he’d be writing songs of Innocence and Planning Experience…!

Featured Image Copyright: hdwallpaper.ws

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