How do young people feel about the places where they live? And how do the spaces available to them, constrain or shape their activities? Last week, Margaret Robertson, Professor of Education at La Trobe University in Melbourne presented a seminar at the University of Glasgow which explored these questions. The event was hosted by Glasgow University’s Urban Big Data Centre (UBDC), in collaboration with the Centre for Research & Development in Lifelong Learning.
Margaret has long-standing research interests in youth studies and cross-cultural differences, and a particular focus is on “student voice” and young people’s views and visions of their future lifestyles.
She began with an overview of Melbourne, whose population of 4 million is being swelled by 2000 new arrivals every week. This growth, she explained, is pushing the urban fringe further and further out, and this movement is transforming Melbourne into a global city.
At the same time, Margaret pointed to dramatic changes in the cultural landscape, largely due to increased mobility and technological advances. These changes are presenting particular challenges to young people, many of whom are using travel and social media to create their own “social spaces”. This “pop-up” culture can include everything from websites to impromptu skateboard parks.
Margaret’s research has found that the lived experiences of young people growing up in new housing estates on the fringes of Melbourne have, until recently, been unexamined. Among her own findings:
- Large houses with small backyards create ‘sedentary landscapes’ for children.
- Youth mobility is diminished with cars increasingly used for children’s travel.
- Transport issues, especially in outer suburbs of cities contribute to a loss of independence for young people.
She explained that her findings underline the importance of personal space and special places in the lives of young people.
Above all, Margaret stressed the importance of giving young people a voice – and a real voice, not a token voice. Only by asking young people for their views, she argues, can local and national government learn to encourage the creative, entrepreneurial youth counter-cultures now possible through increased mobility and technology.
Margaret’s wide-ranging and well-informed presentation offered plenty of food for thought, although she stressed that part of the researcher’s journey was to acknowledge that there are no clear solutions to the problems affecting society.
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