This week we continue to watch the unfolding of the Black Lives Matter movement. As Portland becomes the new epicentre of unrest, local residents are out in droves standing against federal law enforcement. Federal authorities claim to be protecting statues from toppling and other property damage, though one could argue human life is receiving far less respect.
Residents have taken to the streets to demand a better future for themselves and their kids. Amidst the horror of watching the news about Portland, I have been reading Palaces for the People by Eric Klinenberg, the writing highlighted in Ifeoma Ebo and Greg Saville’s SafeGrowth presentation in Sweden last November.
A BLEAK FUTURE
I’ve always found reading Klinenberg like sitting down with an old friend. I don’t know exactly where the conversation will lead, but it will be engaging and familiar. However, just as I was settling into the accustomed pace of these ideas, a particular quotation resonated with my background thoughts of Portland. Speaking about teenagers and their tendency to shun face-to-face interactions in exchange for online communication, Klinenberg writes,
“According to research by danah boyd, director of the research institute Data & Society, young people spend so much of their social time online because adults – from helicopter parents to hyper vigilant school administrators and security guards – give them few other options”.
Right now, as mothers are forming human barricades between the protesters and federal agents, youth are rising up in unprecedented numbers. Sparked by the work done by the “March for our Lives” movement and others, our youth have their heads up and are looking at a pretty bleak future.
There is an ongoing lament about the younger generation. Books like The Dumbest Generation claim that the digital age has stupefied young people and made it so they are unable to engage in deep thought and meaningful conversations. However, this lament is not new. As research suggests, every generation has complained about the one after it. Indeed there is so much complaint about Millennials, most people forget that Millennials like me are in our thirties and forties with full-time careers and kids.
What Klinenberg describes is that when we deny spaces for youths to interact and engage without constant monitoring by adults, we deny them third places. These great good places, where teenagers can put aside family and school, have all but disappeared. Short of a few skateboard parks (that often impose strict rules) and community centres, there are no real places where youth can stumble upon other youth.
PLACES TO INTERACT AND SOCIALIZE
Young people need these unstructured and unmonitored spaces. These spaces should be flexible, inexpensive, inclusive of all groups, and located in neighbourhoods that do not fear the presence of young people. They should allow youth to meet and interact with diverse groups and grow intellectually and interpersonally. More importantly, in times like these, great good places create ways for young people to plan and engage civically. That kind of work cannot be done alone and online, as demonstrated in Dave Cullen's Parkland.
In a post-COVID world, we need to think about how we build social infrastructure with young adults. They need to be at the table and actively involved in these decisions. Many of our SafeGrowth communities have already worked alongside youth who are a part of local organizations, for example with neighbourhood Hubs in Honduras and while placemaking their own spaces in New Zealand.
More importantly, we need to be even more proactive and involve youth from across the spectrum of neighbourhood needs.
Not only will these third places encourage young people to make new friends and develop socially, but also help to build social capital and connection across diverse racial, sexual and class divides. These spaces will help us to build the better future our young people are already fighting for today.