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The role of public space in the lives of young people

This briefing from the Centre for Research on Families and Relationships, which draws on the experiences of young people growing up in a Scottish housing estate, explores young people’s understanding and experiences of ASB (antisocial behaviour policy) and, in particular, how they use and relate to public spaces.

Young people were aware that their neighbourhood had a ‘bad name’ across the rest of the city:

“they think, oh it is junkies in here, drinkers in there, alcoholics. Just generally tramps and all that.”

Physical and social disorder had, for many, become an everyday part of life:

“it’s just life; you see it ‘aw the time.”

Although young people often talked about their area negatively, their feelings about ‘Robbiestoun’ were very complex:

“It’s a bad area but it is good too.”

“They just see it all full of dog crap, rubbish over there, bonfires there, crappy buildings […] We see people that we know, friends and family. And we see places, you know, like the places that we go.”

Many young people complained that they were stereotyped as troublemakers, arguing that adults,

“had forgotten they were young once too.”

Several gave accounts of victimisation. One young person talked about his experiences of racial harassment:

“I was scared (…) Just walking about basically. I didn’t trust it, I didn’t like going outside our flat even.”

Another had been targeted by a group of young people from her school and avoided entering one part of the estate:

“And it’s like, they basically assaulted me, why would they do that? It’s like I don’t even come down here anymore, unless it’s for a good reason.”

Some young people did not limit the time they spent in public space by rather employed a strategy of

“keeping yur heid doon.”

“You need to think about where you are going, you can’t go down a street just not caring. You need to know what peoples are down there.”

Others successfully maintained friendly relations with those considered ‘hard’ or ‘dodgy’ thus allowing them to navigate public spaces without fear of victimisation:

“everybody [on the street] is friendly enough, as long as you are friends with people.”

Many ‘antisocial’ young people had been subject to formal interventions. These were generally ineffectual in changing where and how young people hung out:

“they don’t do anything and are pointless.”