Teenagers & the city — an afternoon at Lunchskap
On 26 August, planners, politicians, teenagers and researchers gathered under the shade of maple trees outside the office of Landskapslaget to discuss the teenager’s city (Swe. Tonårsstaden).
Teenagers are a demographic group who make a lot of use of our cities’ public spaces. What kind of cities would teenagers like to have? How could such a city differ from those we have today and, most interestingly, how would it differ from cities other demographic groups want? These are questions that do not receive very much attention in urban governance and planning in most European cities, including in Sweden. And while Sweden is the only European country to have transposed the UN Child Convention into planning, questions of this kind still appear rather peripheral. They are seldom discussed outside the circles of youth-focused NGOs, educators, urban activists, and youth-focused practitioners. For this reason, it was refreshing to learn about the event “Lunchskap”, co-organized by landscape architecture firm Landskapslaget and the think-tank Movium (SLU). Our project team members Johanna and Sofia were there to listen in.
The afternoon kicked off with local politicians taking the stage in a panel discussion. The panel discussion was timely. We are a step from the Swedish elections, and it is in everybody’s interest to better understand what politicians think and have to say on this topic. The panel discussion was interesting. It showed an awareness among the politicians to improve our cities for teenagers — and they also presented several initiatives to do so. We did note, however, that only a few of the politicians mentioned the importance of bottom-up planning and finding more ways to actually include children and youth in planning processes.
The panel discussion was only a small portion of the event, however. The program included many speakers, including academics, practitioners, educators, and planners. Safety was a recurring theme throughout the afternoon. Adult presence (access to support), working with light design and enabling community-building were some solutions presented in order to create cities that feel safe for teenagers (and others) to move around in. Another recurring theme was the need to create equal opportunities for boys and girls, and for people from different socioeconomic backgrounds, to partake in activities and to have living environments meet their needs. Together with many stories of how this is being done.
The highlight of the day was the young speakers. Youth from the suburban areas of Rågsved and Bandhagen took the stage to speak about their involvement in the development and activities of Snösätra kulturkvarter. We also got to hear from two young women from Vision Generation Basket, who shared their thoughts on what may be done to improve the living environments for young people, and how their basketball association creates an opportunity for them to be heard. On site were also design and architecture students from Thorildsplans Gymnasium taking part in a workshop arranged by the art-collective FLUKE (see pictures below and on FLUKE’s Instagram).
However, some of the participating youth commented on how they would have liked to see more young people present, also in the audience. Suggesting that what really is missing from events like this is youth being involved as both speakers and audience — enabling youth and others to discuss matters together. In line with the current debate in Swedish media, where representatives from various youth organizations argue that the view on youth in the political debate has changed, to the negative, over the last period, these observations were timely and relevant, as they point to a need to bring the political program closer to the daily struggles of young people.
We would like to thank Landskapslaget and Movium for a well-organized event where many important and relevant topics were discussed. This event brought together different perspectives and gave space for discussion of what constitutes good cities for children and teenagers, and how such cities would be good cities for all other demographic groups. As a project focusing on the issues of youth as a less represented group in urban governance and spatial planning, we celebrate initiatives like this which further the debate and raise important questions.