Spatial Stories: An exploration of young people’s everyday experience of public spacePlaytime Latest

03/05/2017 – Spatial Stories: An exploration of young people’s everyday experience of public space

The urban public realm is a site of considerable significance to teenagers.  It is a site of the ‘everyday practice’ of their lives; walking to school, to the shops, or wandering around, hanging out with friends and socializing. In these seemingly unremarkable moments, a sense of identity and a sense of place emerges.

An exhibition of work created by a group of 16 and 17 year olds which takes place in Dublin from May 6th until May 13th marks the culmination of a project designed to understand teenagers experience of public space.  The project, Spatial Stories, was developed by Jackie Bourke and Dorothy Smith, an urban researcher and an artist who share a keen interest in the complexities of the urban public realm.

Despite the importance of public space for young people, it is a highly contested space where they often feel unwelcome. Their bid to socialize is at times misconstrued as anti-social behaviour, and they are moved on. Nonetheless, through their familiarity with their daily routes they develop an expertise in their urban environments. Their engagement with public space is somewhat complex and the knowledge they acquire is richly layered.

Spatial Stories drew inspiration from the urban commentator Jane Jacobs who urged us to:

“…look closely, and with as little previous expectation as possible, at the most ordinary
scenes and events, and attempt to see what they mean and whether any threads of
principle emerge among them” .

The group of young people who participated in the project were encouraged to look closely, and without expectation, at the ordinary everyday encounters they have as they walk their daily routes. Over the course of seven workshops, Lara McQuade, Robert McMahon, Sean Kimmage, Aoibhín Ní Cheara, Dean Curtis and Katie Jo McMahon mapped their experiences and perspectives using photography, creative writing, drawing and walking fieldwork.
During the workshops there were in-depth discussions exploring how teenagers feel they are perceived, and how they view the urban public realm themselves. Through these conversations the participants revealed experiences which range from feelings of vulnerability and alienation to a deeply embodied sense of place and belonging.

The work on show captures that range of experience, conveying an inherent playfulness, an acute awareness of architectural detail and urban landscaping, of nature, of environmental neglect, and of the intrinsic role of friends and family in their everyday
lives. Through their work they have captured the fleeting moments and subtle details which shape their experience of public space - an experience they describe as both welcoming and hostile. Through this show they challenge viewers assumptions and facilitate a reconsideration of how we position young people in the urban public realm.