The best places in the world to grow up?

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The strategic objective of the Scottish Government that “Our children have the best start in life and are ready to succeed” is reflected in an ambition to make Scotland the best place in the world to grow up, a commitment to the early years agenda and the curriculum for excellence, and is also evident in the recent passage of the Children and Young People (Scotland) Bill.

The meeting of the Cross Party Group on Architecture and the Built Environment on February 25th 2014, Chaired by Linda Fabiani MSP, heard how young people participate in changing their place, and invited debate on how meaningful, effective participation can help to create sustainable change in Scotland’s places.

The meeting heard directly about the experience of different groups of young people:

A group from Pilton in Edinburgh spoke about what makes their area a great place to live: “it’s safe and not so much trouble as people make out; you can be yourself, you won’t be judged; people are there for you; it’s easy to make friends”. They suggested more community things, particularly for teenagers, and more places to meet might improve the area for them. The group recently participated in the Our Natural Capital project, facilitated by Daisychain Associates with partners, which re-connects young people from the periphery with Edinburgh’s city centre and told the story through their perspective.

A group of young people from Forfar described how they had worked with Space Unlimited on the New Urban Voices project intended to give young people the space and support to build a stronger voice and more leadership in transforming the places where they live. They told how they had participated in the design of the school campus and had put forward new ideas such as eco-garden and new reception areas. Originally interested in “going along for a skive!” they soon realised they could play a part and be proud of their achievement, i.e.: “I contributed this; this is my idea”. They were also able to change perceptions of “how children are judged because of their behaviour”.

Hanneke Scott – van Wel, Director of Stone Opera, explained a number of projects where her practice designed and delivered practical methods of engaging young people in the briefing process for architecture and neighbourhoods (e.g. Boroughmuir High School; NHS Sick Kids; ‘Architecture for everyone’). Hanneke spoke of the need to value the opinions of young people, and their talent for coming up with imaginative ideas for change. It is important to engage young people in a meaningful way and she referred to deep frustrations when ideas and action were stalled, and reports ended up on the shelf, due to lack of commitment, resources or political will.

Jenny Wood, Phd researcher at Heriot Watt, and volunteer with Planning Aid Scotland, provided an overview on the relationship between young people and the planning system. Jenny noted that the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child highlights ‘3ps’ as pillars that should integrate into planning and other policies: a] protection of young people from harm; b] provision of opportunities for young people, and c] opportunities for young people to participate in the life of their places. Evidence and imagery (e.g. ‘no ball games’) indicated how environments for young people are conditioned by an adult view of the world; e.g. skate parks devoted solely to age limits. Emerging national planning policy (e.g. NPF and SPP) note how the built environment is for everyone, but there are real and perceived barriers to effective participation evident in the language of planning, the lack of resources to properly engage with school age groups, and an attitude that children and young people are an impediment to engagement. The result is inconsistent practice and a patchwork engagement. Several English Cities have signed up to Cities for Children Initiative but as yet Scottish cities are yet to follow. Children’s rights have existed since 1991, but are not properly and effectively implemented in Scotland.

In summing up the opening presentation and discussion Diarmaid Lawlor, A&DS’s Head of Urbanism, expressed frustration that we don’t listen often enough. He referred to A&DS’s ‘Learning Towns’ programme and recalled an example where a child’s observation that ‘the island is my school’ led to a radical review of how his school environment might be designed.

A subsequent discussion and Q+A session covered topics such as:

  • the need to properly take into account children and young people user needs when designing
  • designing for a range of age groups must also consider differing impairment needs
  • engagement of young children in civic processes at an early age can help to develop confidence and leadership skills and is more likely to encourage further participation in other public areas
  • a need for better advertising of opportunities for youth participation
  • examples of where projects had been delivered (e.g. youth gathering area; teaching circle; cycle test area; etc)
  • a desire for placemaking to be taught as part of education that encourages people to help improve their place
  • a need for better promotion and awareness of children’s rights

The idea of participation recognises that people are the experts about their own lives and best placed to inform change design of their surroundings. The importance of participation was captured in a closing comment from one of the young contributors to the debate who remarked that “if I know that I helped to make it, I’m going to want to stay and be more responsible”.

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Place and leadership

The cross-party group of the Scottish Parliament on Architecture and the Built Environment were presented with the findings of...

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