Keep talking

Just before Christmas I spent a great afternoon talking to a whole group of teenage girls about what they’d want from a park designed with them in mind.  These things are always fun, but we learn something new every single time, so I thought I’d share what came up from this session in particular..

The background to the project is that we’re working with YourPark at Brickfields Park in Bath.  Brickfields is a very plain  – if hilly – neighbourhood park, well away from the tourists and the Regency buildings.  It is however close to a girls’s school, Hayesfield, so we went there to talk to a group of Year 9 Design and Technology students.

I say we, because a trio of landscape architects from Stride Treglowan – Ruth, Isabelle and Victoria – had volunteered to come and help.  And that’s the first two takeaways.  One is that you need a lot of people (there were five of us in total, including Charlee from Yourpark) to capture everything that gets said.  And the other is that working with design professionals is also really helpful because they could help the girls by presenting the problem as designed, and with visualising their ideas and asking relevant questions which really helped them think about what would solve their problems with the park.  They also really helped us with thinking about what materials we might need – I can heartily recommend both giant maps and tracing paper for creating alternative designs.

The next one is more of a reiteration.  Women In Sport, in their guide to consulting teenage girls, suggest that it’s really good to work with small friendship groups.  In a school, the girls naturally separated themselves off into these groups and it did make the conversations flow.

The third is that these things take time.  We had two hours, an entire double period over a Friday afternoon, but even then we could probably have used another half an hour or so.  Even so, all of this was very valuable. Here are a particular evocative set of post it notes about what parks mean to one group.  Sandy and Weird apparently.

But in the time they had, the groups evolved their thinking considerably.  One set of girls who’d been thinking about how Brickfields worked ended up trying to work out what a more inclusive skate park might look like, while another who’d begun with some wild ideas, ended up creating a very detailed model of a shelter with high seating areas and spaces for different groups. 

I’d have loved to see where they all might have taken this with a bit longer to do it in.  It’s also worth noting that this time we weren’t able to take the girls for a walk and talk around the space, which is can be a great way to get a perspective on a space. So we’d love to do this as a follow up.

But over the two hours we did also get so much information, about their thoughts on parks in general and Brickfields in particular.  There’s nothing to do but walk round in circles.  They don’t like the hedge which sections off the park and makes some areas feel unsafe.  The entrance is narrow, dark and doesn’t feel welcoming.

Many of their observations would probably apply to most parks in the country.  The girls really wanted to play, but all the equipment is fenced off and for smaller children, and if they use it the parents judge them.  They want better social seating – but also raised a point we haven’t heard before, which is that if you put a bin next to a bench, as they so often are, it smells.  And they wouldn’t ever think of playing sport in parks because the boys would mock them.

We’ve got some more consultations planned for Brickfields, but as soon as these ideas start to turn into plans, we’ll let you know.

And finally, one simple but brilliant idea.  One group suggested installing gym equipment which lets you charge your mobile phone.  Genius.  So who wants to put that into production.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.