GUEST BLOG: Tarah Hodgkinson is senior researcher in the Integrated Risk Assessment Instrument Group in Vancouver, Canada. She is a member of the International CPTED Association and a certified SafeGrowth practitioner. She is completing her PhD in criminology at Simon Fraser University.
Like the lyrics above from the best selling track Sing, too much crime prevention targets at-risk youth, but it rarely consults them. In The End of Education, Neil Postman told a fable of New York City falling into desperation. The streets are in disrepair, people are afraid to go outside and the police are unable to control the ballooning crime problem.
Not knowing what to do, the Mayor’s aide prepares to flee the city, but first reads Thoreau’s Walden, especially the quote, “Students should not play life, or study it merely, while the community supports them at this expensive game, but earnestly live it from beginning to end. How could youths better learn to live than by at once trying the experiment of living?”
SAFETY AUDITS WITH KIDS
I recently participated in a safety audit with local youth in Saskatoon, Canada. With the help of a local planner and SafeGrowth advocate, Elisabeth Miller and planner Haven Rees, we reworked some of the safety audit to make it more youth friendly. We taught safety audit principles through games and examples. Finally the youth conducted a safety audit in one of Saskatoon’s neighbourhoods.
The experience reminded me how rarely youth are brought to the table when discussing safety, despite their unique experience in the urban environment. This group was particularly interesting, because they were all newcomers to Canada. Many were from countries much more violent and crime-ridden than Canada. Their experience is particularly unique, because they experience fear and safety differently.
For example, while conducting the safety audit one youth exclaimed,“of course I feel safe here! It’s so much safer than Russia!”
The youth in the safety audit told a different story than adults often do about their neighbourhoods. In a Block City exercise they were given the opportunity to build a neighbourhood with schools, shops, homes, and churches. They placed parks and shops very close to their home.
During the safety audit they also noticed things in the neighbourhood that we had missed. We were consistently surprised by their awareness and eagerness to participate. They were excited that we were taking their contributions seriously and genuinely intended to use their feedback.
GIVING VOICE TO YOUTH
I’ve had the privilege of teaching youth throughout my career. I often see their frustration when they are counted out from decisions because they are too young, or not given opportunities because adults feel they haven’t learned enough yet. However, when given the opportunity they can create beautiful and inspiring things. I’ve been impressed by the efforts to include youth here in Saskatoon.
Similar results are reported in this blog by educator Fleur Knight during her work in New Zealand schools.
I hope others will recognize the importance of involving youth in policy and neighbourhood improvements and we will stop doing things to and for youth, but rather with them.