We are now living in a world where the outdoor public realm is at the heart of everything we do. We are recognising more and more the benefits of access to outdoor amenities for all ages. But how can we plan and change our spaces to create accessible amenities for the youth of today? asks Abbey Kirwin, Marketing Manager at Lightmain.
We often discuss creating child-friendly cities and focusing our designs on our ever-ageing society, but sometimes the youth of today can become the ‘forgotten’ ones when we plan for the public realm. Making spaces accessible can be seen from different viewpoints and there are numerous points to consider when we discuss this such as:
• Location – outdoor amenities that are targeted to youths should be located within the parameters of their local community, close to schools or their homes to make them reasonably accessible
• Age range – the term youth is often reflective of people aged 11 to 19, and there is a huge diversity of needs within this as their development paths vary
• Gender – often we forget the different needs of youths depending on their gender and we design for ‘all’ when personality traits and physical ability can hugely differ
• Inclusivity – youths of all ages and abilities need to be included to ensure the success of outdoor amenities. Whether they have a disability, physically, mentally, temporarily or permanently, there are many ways to view how inclusivity can be planned for within these spaces.
• Material – using the correct materials makes sure we are providing spaces that are long-lasting, durable and resistant, for heavy use. It means that outdoor provision can be used by generations of youths and makes maintenance easier should there be any vandalism.
Although there are many more points to consider, gender is without a doubt a theme that should be made part of our discussions. ‘Make Space for Girls’ is a charity that is currently promoting the movement for consideration of teenage girls in outdoor provision. They point out that most outdoor areas for teenagers are often in the form of skate parks and multi-use games areas (MUGAs) and that these are regularly dominated by boys. Their research suggests that providing better lighting, pathways and wider entrances could help create better spaces for girls.
One area in which we could also plan better would be by providing opportunities for sport for girls – for example, rather than just providing for basketball within MUGAs, we could also provide for netball. A recent Lightmain installation, for example, created a rotating pole that allowed for basketball on one side and, when turned, also had a netball net – creating spaces for all genders/abilities and offering different options for people of all heights at the same time.
Youths require a place to take ownership
Beyond this, we must remember that teenagers are developing adults and, within this, they require spaces that they feel they can be independent in. This could be a MUGA, skate park or other hangout spots, such as youth shelters – spaces that provide them with a sense of ownership and community, a place to go and meet friends, socialise and feel safe. These spaces help us keep youths healthy, both mentally and physically. Providing space for socialisation helps eradicate loneliness and gives teenagers a place away from their home in their own community, whilst skate parks and MUGAs also promote this socialisation to be active, to endorse sport and exercise in their social life.
Local authorities’ use of MUGAs shows evidence that when they are placed within communities, they can reduce anti-social behaviour and increase participation in sport within early teens. This also correlates to helping with mental health as sports participation reduces stress and anxiety. In order to keep young adults returning to these areas, we must invest correctly by ensuring that high-quality provision is provided. For example, using high-quality MUGAs will drastically improve the playing experience for participants and, therefore, encourage them to return on a regular basis ensuring they are part of the community, but also increasing the likelihood of them partaking in physical activity.
How can we continue to create these valued spaces?
We must ensure that these spaces are created now and in the future. One way to make sure these amenities are successful would be to actually consult with teenagers on developments. As the prime users of these spaces, consultations should be youth-led and we should make use of their opinions and ensure they are at the forefront of planning.
One size does not fit all – we should recognise that everybody is different and that creating long-lasting, inclusive spaces for teenagers is the best way to promote healthy societies and encourage mix-use and integration.
Essentially, we are moving towards an environment already where communities take pride and value outdoor amenities more than they may have in the past, from young to old. We must remember that creating enduring, well-designed facilities for youths can make a positive local area and provide safety and comfort for the whole community, as well as having benefits past the point of physicality for users. It also works on improving health and wellbeing mentally, socially, emotionally and, at times, economically for local communities.