Place and Space:
Planning for the future with young people
Sometimes I get to the end of the week and realise that a theme has emerged that maybe I didn’t predict at the beginning. This has been one of those weeks and the theme has been public spaces and in particular the places where young people hang out. My office is currently working on a project asking young people what they think would make our city a more welcoming place for young people. We are also asking them to think about how they can be included as designers and shapers of how our city is now and in the future. Last Sunday was International Youth Day with the theme of ‘Safe Spaces for Youth’. Safety has been a major part of this week’s conversations with young people and has touched on not just the physical safety of young people but the safety to speak your mind and stand up for your rights, and to be welcomed and included in public places.
One thing that is becoming apparent to me is that we don’t routinely include young people in our thinking about the future design of where we live. We sometimes have good intentions and think about what we think young people want and hope it filters down to real experiences, but that’s not really good enough.
We need to engage young people and help them participate in the decision making that happens around the design of our cities, communities and spaces where we live, work and play. It seems a pity that we don’t have more opportunities for them to be involved in those conversations that shape SA’s future.
This week I did get to be part of a conversation with the State Planning Commission consultations on planning reform. I was able to take three young representatives Nicola, Tim and Ned to this session. The consultation was talking to stakeholders about shaping South Australia’s planning future. Nicola, Tim and Ned had such nuanced ways of looking at planning that only young consumers of the city could articulate. As the only young people in the room, their contribution was unique. Whilst it is not the only consultation being held by the Commission I feel confident in saying they don’t specifically have any sessions for young people. That will be a lost opportunity to hear from a group with ideas, experiences and thoughts about adaptive reuse of buildings, cultural heritage, climate change, and housing supply and integrated planning, all of which are critical to their future.
I saw that when you give young people a chance to contribute, the payoff is huge. They exist in this space every day and have a different way of using the space than what adults do. They are the users of these places and spaces in the future and need to be asked now what that should look like in years to come.
On Tuesday of this week, I went to the Barossa Valley to continue my ‘Hopes and Dreams’ tour and again the importance of place was evident in my conversations. Children and young people told me how the ‘place’ they live is so integral to their health and wellbeing. They talked about what they love in their community and how where they live is woven into their identity. They talked about wanting to stay in their towns when they got older so they could help the community thrive and so they could help their families and volunteer in their community. I was struck by how many young people wanted to stay in the region when they ‘grow up’.
Collectively they were such a creative, vocal group of children and young people who embraced my visit to their region. They kept saying to me, ‘let us have a bigger say’; they wanted support and encouragement through face to face contact with politicians. They want to be allowed to make decisions on things that concern them, they wanted mentoring and to be thought of as young people who weren’t just school students, but who had a life and identity outside of school. They wanted to be represented as individuals and to be celebrated for their differences. Topics such as transport and getting their drivers licence, part time jobs and jobs for the future came up as burning issues for them. But there was a resounding message from each group I went to that they had something to say and wanted their voice to be valued so they could realise their dreams.
In my experience this desire to have a say is a common theme and the issue is that adults aren’t listening to them. In the words of a 17- year- old Barossa girl, “Youth are the best asset you have and we are not feeling included”.
Strong words and we need to listen to that. We have to develop mechanisms that recognise that young people are ‘interested parties’ in what is happening around them and we need to work much harder at connecting to them. We need to seek out their views about everything from planning design to transport, employment and use of public spaces.
Helen Connolly, Commissioner for Children and Young People SA.
Friday 17th August 2018