July 27, 2017
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Here’s how to get young people invested in their communities

Project for Public Spaces shares tips and ideas to get youth involved in 'placemaking'

Young people use public spaces just as much as anyone else, if not more. And yet, too often young people, or young adults between the ages of 12 to 25, are not included in the process of “placemaking,” and can sometimes be classified as “loiterers.” Some communities frown upon loitering, which can create a negative image for young people and just contributes to the stigma surrounding them, especially those who are at risk. By being actively engaged in youth-friendly spaces, young people can feel like they have investment in their community and they can develop a strong sense of ownership in these places.

Parks and public spaces are often built with small children and adults in mind, with an emphasis on playgrounds for the children and benches for the adults watching them. Alternatively, some public spaces are simply devoid of activity or amenities–conducive to picnicking or maybe playing ball, but offering little else for young people.

As community leaders we must engage the whole community, and by engaging young people we send the message that they are a part of our community too.

Young people can be great entrepreneurs and are extremely resourceful. Not to mention they are our towns’ future community builders, business owners, public servants, and families. As community leaders we must engage the whole community, and by engaging young people we send the message that they are a part of our community too. Working with young people creates stewardship, ownership, respect and a great sense of pride in our communities. Involvement of young people in your community could really influence future town planners and community leaders. (Read about five successful examples from around the world where young people were involved in placemaking.)

Young people can sometimes be hard to engage depending on where and how you approach them. Many youth participation projects run by adults run the risk of becoming “tokenistic.” This often happens because adults maintain control of the forum and young people are not fully participating. True participation occurs when young people have full understanding and comprehensive knowledge of the project, are passionate and genuinely interested in the project, and are invested in the project and can visualize the outcomes.

It’s important that throughout your facilitation you are patient and let young people step in when they are ready and let everyone speak in their own manner.

Here are four tips on how to engage young people in placemaking:

1. Use the Power of 10

Are there youth friendly areas in your city? Using the “Power of 10” think about how many things there are for young people to do in your local area. Here are a list of things that may make your space more “youth friendly”:

  • Basketball courts
  • Legal graffiti walls
  • Rock climbing walls
  • Access to local transport
  • Parkour park and facilities
  • Skate ramps, rails, half-pipes and bowls
  • A stage, or area that can be converted into a stage
  • Ping pong tables
  • Wi-fi
  • Access to power
  • Shelter from the weather
  • Lighting
  • BBQ facilities
  • Frequent youth events
  • A blackboard and chalk

Working with young people does not come without its challenges. Getting young people to turn up can be one of them. We most likely won’t find young people turning up to council meetings or public forums. Engaging young people requires thinking outside the box and using creative alternative and innovative ideas for community consultation.

2. Consult and connect with youth in the community

Identifying the interests of local young people, or issues in the community around young people, is a key part of building a relationship with them. Placemakers may find themselves building community networks with local sporting businesses, skateboard and BMX stores, and other areas of interest that young people may be attracted to.

Local youth organizations are always looking to get their young people involved in the wider community so creating a connection is a great place to start. They will have access to young people and experience in facilitating groups. These can be local employers, schools, alternative colleges, sporting clubs, drama clubs, music hubs, youth centers, recreational centers, and other hobby centers.

Accurate representation from all groups is crucial to getting a meaningful response, and to do so you may need to use a variety of means; young people may want to participate using different mediums, so you may have one group who will do an online survey and another group who are willing to attend a workshop. It’s imperative to be flexible.

Marketing is quite crucial to creating a great space. The sooner you get your project branded, the quicker people will identify the project, especially on social media like Instagram and Facebook.

3. Think lighter, quicker, cheaper

Don’t have enough money for a marketing consultant? Contact your local high school or college and host a competition for graphic design students to design your logo for you. Tablets, laptops, and vouchers are great prizes. This is also a way to let young people know something is happening and simultaneously involve them.

Asking local businesses for in-kind support in exchange for free advertising in your space is also a great way to get community on board and supportive of community projects.

4. Be a zealous nut

… and throw a party for your space! Get on social media! Create a page for your project on Instagram, Twitter, Facebook, or whatever is popular at the time. Using the same logo for all social media is also a way to familiarize your audience with your project.

We grow strong young entrepreneurs when we engage young people in placemaking.

Set up a survey online and link in to all your social media sites. Make an event to get the ball rolling, like a movie and pizza night in the public space you want to improve. Events are a great way to start—you can have competitions for whatever sport is popular in your area, for instance.

Some event ideas to get you started:

  • Mine craft competitions to redesign a space
  • BMX/skate competitions and workshops
  • Movie night (popcorn is really cheap)
  • Local craft markets–you could ask local high schools to get students to make things and invite them to sell their arts and crafts or baked goods
  • Flash mob dance party
  • Festival with rides in true circus style
  • Battle of the bands

Handing out free things is a great way to get dialogue happening. Ask young people where they hang out, why and what they want to see happen in their communities. It would be wise not to get them to fill out a paper survey but to ask them to participate in something more interactive like drawing what they would like to see on an enlarged image of the space. Also put posters up and around local schools, fast food restaurants, and areas where young people hang out outside of the public space.

Power to the young people

Involving young people in the placemaking process is good for the stakeholders, community organizations, and the young people themselves–not to mention the wider community in general. Young people have opportunities to learn communication skills, decision making, and develop positive relationships with community “adults.” Young people who are engaged with community projects are more likely to finish school and less likely to engage in risky behavior. Young people who engage in community projects also develop a strong sense of pride and ownership of their local public spaces and communities in general.

Organizations are able to make better informed decisions about youth projects, social issues, and community concerns with actual youth involvement. We grow strong young entrepreneurs when we engage young people in placemaking.

This post was excerpted from an original article published by Project for Public Spaces. Read the full piece here.

Project for Public Spaces

Project for Public Spaces (PPS) is a nonprofit planning, design, and educational organization dedicated to helping people create and sustain public spaces that build stronger communities. As the central hub of the global Placemaking movement, PPS’s pioneering Placemaking approach helps citizens transform their public spaces into vital places that highlight local assets, spur rejuvenation and serve common needs.