The right to lurk. Or loiter

At the end of the summer holidays my friend and I ran out of money.  We were both seventeen and we had nothing to do and there was nowhere to go.  So we’d go and hang out on the swings in the early evening and chat as the light slowly faded into dusk.  It was better than sitting around at home.

We were lucky because the rest of the park was empty, so no one chased us off, or told us to go somewhere else, and where would that have been anyway if they had?  And, as far as you can be when you are a bored teenager with nothing else to do, we were happy just swinging and chatting.

There’s two points to telling that story. One is that girls really like swings.  My friend and I weren’t unusual at all, my teenage daughter and her friends love them too and the need for more swings is something which regularly comes through in the research.  The number of stock photos of teenage girls on swings is another clue.

Yet this rarely comes through in park design.  Not only are there never enough swings, but they are almost always placed with the equipment for younger children, so that if teenagers use them they are seen as invaders, taking up room where kids should be playing, being intimidating just by being there.  But they have a right to play too, even if this is rarely acknowledged by the infrastructure.

The other is that hanging around is what teenagers want to do, and they need spaces which let them do this.  They have a right to lurk, to do nothing, to loiter.  And if they’re not given places to do this, they will find them.  Like the swings.  Teenagers are not generally welcome but teenage girls are even more of a problem – as one academic put it, they are the wrong gender in the wrong place.

So a group of girls in a park are caught in a double bind.  If they just hang around in the park, they’re not doing anything useful and should go away and be somewhere else.  But if they sit on the swings, playing and getting some exercise, they’re invaders, getting in the way.  All of which are yet more reasons why we need to make proper spaces for teenage girls.

One final thing.  In the course of writing this, I found the perfect answer for our long bored summer all those years ago.  It’s called Swing Time, and it’s been built in Boston (the American one).

Not only is it twenty huge swings for lounging or swinging on, but those swings light up.  In the evening they glow gently with white light, but if you start to move them, they turn purple.  The harder you swing, the more the colour changes.

Clearly this is a one-off piece, designed by architects and must have cost big money.  But what it also shows is that we don’t just have to think about play for teenagers in terms of existing equipment.  Artists and architects and designers might be able to invent something entirely new and different.  And it might be so good that the grown ups want to play too.

2 Responses to “The right to lurk. Or loiter

  • This is SO important! Yes, to all of this. Thank you!

  • So interesting wonder if more small towns or even cities had such places, if the teenagers would not be as angry and destructive…

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