How to build public spaces for teenage girls
Teenage girls are neither children nor adults, meaning they have specific needs and behaviors that differ from these two groups. Unfortunately, as with many marginalized groups, these needs and behaviors have not been met or encouraged by our built environment as has been the case for others. For example, playgrounds are built for children to let off steam, and sports fields that encourage competition are aimed at men and adolescent boys.
If public spaces are not responsive to the needs of teenage girls, other groups of people, mostly men, who already occupy 80% of public spaces, can continue to dominate them. Teenage girls feel ten times more unsafe in public spaces. This absence not only affects their social, physical and intellectual development, but also makes it difficult for them to feel that they belong in public spaces.
Teenage girls need spaces that cater to their own needs. To understand what these needs are and how they can be met through our built environment, below we present three European organizations and individuals demonstrating how to create spaces for teenage girls too.
Rooms to chat, linger and socialize
Make Space for Girls is a UK non-profit organization dedicated to making parks and public spaces for teenage girls through research and public engagement. Reflecting on her teenage years to conduct her research, co-founder Susannah Walker explains, “At the end of summer vacation, my girlfriend and I ran out of money…we had nowhere to go. So we went and hung out on the swing set…it was better than sitting around at home.” Because swings are typically built for smaller bodies and placed in areas for younger children, “if teens use them, they’re seen as intruders.” says Susanna.
The nonprofit teenage girls want to encourage interaction as the group faces obstacles in spaces already normally built for interaction. That means not having enough money to meet friends in restaurants and cafes (where adults socialize) and seeing the others as intruders in playgrounds (where kids socialize). Make Space for Girls works to address the in-between experiences for teens by creating comfortable and accessible spaces where they can converse, linger and socialize.
Lessons from her research indicate that cities need to add seating in areas such as parks, recreation areas, and public squares that are laid out in styles other than lines. Semi-circle seating facing each other and multi-level platforms successfully encourage the interaction that teenage girls desire.
At this age, it is crucial for teenage girls to develop their social connections and skills. Susannah’s work aims to help teenage girls by “trying to give them openness, to give them some freedom in the city.”
spaces to be active
Swedish architecture firm White Arkitekter created the Flickrum project, which works with teenage girls to design public spaces to develop practical and equitable practices. The project began after a community wanted to encourage young women and girls to cycle more, which encouraged the company to consult with the target group. White Arkitekter found that teenage girls did not want to ride bikes in environments that encouraged competition, e.g. E.g. who could ride a bike the fastest or the longest. Rather, “it’s about cycling slowly, trying different things and doing it in a group,” says Rebbecca Rubin, member of White Arkitekter.
Teenage girls want spaces that are more than just exercise, they also want to be social and creative in their activities. The group told White Arkitekter that to increase their enthusiasm for cycling, they would like a pedaling venue where they could pit stop to chat. Infrastructure that allows them to pedal side-by-side for conversations without feeling “in the way” of fast recreational cyclists (predominantly male). Placing installations and parks along wide and sheltered bike paths is one way to meet the activity needs of teenage girls.
This can be building outdoor balance beams, small to medium sized roller coasters, skate parks and climbing walls where they can move their bodies and fail without judgment or whistles. Also, platforms to listen to music and dance without having to pay a ticket to a festival or dance class. It’s about finding ways to encourage physical activity that balances art, sport and free play, not just about competition.
Designing locations for the goal of movement — this isn’t just a competition — gives teenage girls the opportunity to move their bodies in ways that are comfortable, interesting, and comfortable for them.
Rooms that feel safe
Artist and urbanist Carmel Keren is the researcher behind GUrL, an ongoing practice-oriented research project as a fellow at ZK/UBerlin, supported by Arts Council England. Through email exchanges with Carmel, she explained that she is using a six-month period to work directly with teenage girls in Berlin to learn more about their experiences in the built environment. To reach and engage with this group, she conducts workshops and observations to develop her project material. During her research, the word “safety” came up most often when she spoke to teenage girls about public spaces. In particular, Carmel realized that “a sense of security cannot always be solved by design” (remember Leslie Kern’s quote “No amount of lighting will destroy patriarchy”).
Teenage girls want to feel safe in public spaces aside from physical interventions like lighting. They want to occupy spaces and break with existing social and cultural norms that men and boys dominate public space. Norms like man-spreading, crowding women’s personal space on sidewalks and benches, and talking loudly on their mobile devices or to each other. These are a continuation of behaviors that originated in laws that have historically separated women in “male spaces.” In some cultures this dynamic is still expected and accepted.
Carmel changed her approach to safety in public spaces, shifting from focusing on traditional design (e.g. additional lighting) to “creating meaningful experiences that give girls a voice and the power to occupy spaces in their city and.” to take over”.
GUrL works intensively with a group of girls with a predominantly Muslim first generation migration background and uses public interventions to reflect on and change power dynamics that currently shape public space. To achieve this, they made themselves more visible in public spaces (something teenage girls are often taught the opposite of) by roaming the streets as “public DJs” and carrying speakers to let their favorite songs be heard for all to see. The activity used noise to disrupt whoever currently dominates public space and aimed to give girls the confidence to continue doing so, with or without music. Other large-scale activities included the performative occupation of public spaces with the spoken word, banners and costumes designed by the girls. The group marched through what had previously been described as a “boring” park, given new meaning by the props they brought with them, which allowed them to speak out loud about issues important to them.
At about this age the individual begins to find their place in society. If we continue to allow those who historically and typically dominate public spaces, we are telling teenage girls how to behave and see themselves in those spaces. Giving teenage girls access, resources, and encouragement to occupy spaces that are meaningful to them can alleviate concerns they may have about safety.
Work with teenage girls for inclusive spaces
The needs and behaviors of teenage girls have not been considered in many of our built environments, making them feel less safe in public spaces. In order to meet the needs of this group and give them space in our urban planning, we need to work with them.
Working with this group brings valuable insights into creating more inclusive spaces that are typically ignored. It identified what can make spaces more accessible and comfortable for socialization, how physical activity can be made more attractive and attainable, and thought about what safety means for this group beyond physical interventions.
The European examples above can provide inspiration and direction for implementing similar strategies at home in Canada. From what has been demonstrated, it just starts with working with teenage girls to hear their experiences and understand their needs, each a park, bike path and public space.
In what other ways can we engage teenage girls in public spaces?
This article was originally published in Women in Urbanism Canada.
This article is part of ArchDaily Topics: women in architecture presented by sky frame.
sky frame is characterized by his empathic ability to take on different perspectives and points of view. We are interested in people and their visions, whether in architecture or in a social context. The design of living spaces is very important to us and we also question the role of women in architecture. From the arts to the sciences, women shape our society. We want to shed more light on this role, increase the visibility of women in architecture and empower/encourage them to reach their full potential.
Initiated by Sky-Frame, the Documentary film “Women in Architecture”. is an impulse for inspiration, discussion and reflection. The cinema release is on November 3, 2022.
Each month we delve deeply into a topic through articles, interviews, news and projects. learn more about our ArchDaily topics. As always, we at ArchDaily welcome contributions from our readers; if you want to submit an article or project, contact us.