By Kim Childress
At the park pavilion, a group of ’tweens play barefoot soccer. Near the volleyball court, some high-school guys chill in the sun before tossing a Frisbee. On the playground, kids and their teenage babysitters play don’t-touch-the-ground tag. An older couple sits on a bench near the lake, while a photographer sets up his tripod. Where would we be without our parks and other public spaces?
They’ve been around the world for centuries—gathering places, those hangin’ out spots where you meet your pals, play sports or ride your bike. Ever think about it? Author Hadley Dyer does—a lot, which is what inspired her unique book on this important subject.
“I’ve always been interested in public space issues. They touch on environmental issues, social justice, so many things. I don’t know if kids realize how lucky they are to have good sidewalks, green spaces to go to, and public parks.” —Hadley Dyer, coauthor of Watch This Space: Designing, Defending, and Sharing Public Spaces
Public spaces are where we go to meet new and old friends, enjoy the scenery, watch the world go by or do absolutely nothing. Think public beaches, parks, gardens, libraries. Malls actually are not public—they are owned by private investors. According to Watch This Space: Designing, Defending, and Sharing Public Spaces, public places are “owned” by everyone, free of charge. Read on for an interview on what else this author has to say about the subject.
Kim: Your book brings up some great reasons public spaces are important, especially for teens, like giving kids a place to hang out without adult interference. But as you mention, adults sometimes see kids hanging around and assume trouble.
Hadley: When adults hang around, we call it sitting, hanging or gathering. When kids hang out, we call it “loitering.” We forget we’ve all done it. When asked, adults can come up with some unique space where they used to hang out. Kids need to get away from adults and iron things out, and often they do it in public spaces. Couldn’t we all do better in our public behavior, like picking up after dogs or not picking your nose? Teens travel in crowds, and they’re very visible. But in fact, once you start looking, you can find all kinds of ways we drive people crazy. And yet we’re primates, so we enjoy being together.
Kim: How have you been involved in issues related to public spaces?
Hadley: As a citizen of my city, I’ve always been one of the letter writers my city councilmen dread. I got involved in local issues—I pushed for off-leash parks and park cleanups. I was very aware in the writing that this book is really an introduction to this subject, or a primer. Many kids wouldn’t know what a public space is, and I wanted to give concrete ideas to help kids get their heads around this issue and then find their own ideas. It’s an area of grassroots activism.
Kim: Your book features teens who’ve gotten involved in their local communities. How did you find them?
Hadley: I looked in newspapers and magazines at the local level. I also found a lot of people through word of mouth. I tried to capture examples of what’s possible, not necessarily big, expensive landmark campaigns—just regular kids taking on an issue in a realistic way.
Kim: Your book mentions some really cool places. Any favorites?
Hadley: When I became a grownup, I did the traditional backpacking-through-Europe thing. I’ve been fortunate in my career to travel to places like Amsterdam, which has great public spaces. I did get to go to the rainforest where Jane Goodall did her things, which was very interesting because chimps have a lot of the same issues we have. They don’t always like to share, they bug each other then kiss and make up, and, like us, they want to do things together. I wanted to be diverse in the spaces I featured. I didn’t visit all the places in my book, but I talked to locals and travelers. I visited blogs and chat rooms, and got firsthand accounts. The best public spaces are those that fit the needs of its community.
Public Places Around the World
The Ganges River: Bangladesh, India
Federation Square: Melbourne, Australia
Skatepark Westblaak: Rotterdam, Netherlands
Love Park: Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
Al-Azhar Park: Cairo, Egypt
Reprinted with permission from childressink.com. All photos from wikimedia.org.