Young people the ‘missing middle’ of park planning, development: B.C. study

The pandemic is taking a toll on young people’s mental health, and a new study shows cities have been slow to adapt public green spaces to meet the needs of the “missing middle man.”

People aged 15-24 are often excluded when urban planners design parks, especially when compared with the needs of children and older adults, a UBC study published Thursday (Nov. 17) finds.

“We’re really good at things like playgrounds for younger kids, or benches for older people in parks and things like that,” researcher Sara Barron said in a news release.

“But for the young and young, there’s a distinct lack of purpose-designed spaces where they can be themselves.”

Barron and researcher Emily Rugel developed a three-pronged tool to better gauge how young people will use parks and green spaces.

Young people respond better to parks that are well managed and feel safe. Ruger said safety is a top concern for young women who use the park.

“That’s definitely [an area] We need to consider how safe young people feel compared to others who might be in green spaces. “

Parks with a variety of plants and available activities scored higher when it came to diversity, the study found. Young people also need more independent quiet spaces.

“Some will seek a retreat,” Ruegel said. “But a lot of other young people want a place where they can hang out with friends, play games and talk loudly, and in the library they get yelled at for that.”

In exploring the parks and laneways of Melbourne and Sydney, Australia, as case studies, Rugel and Barron found that very few parks scored highly in all three domains of order, variety, and concealment. The conflict between the three presents a challenge for cities looking to adjust the framework.

“There will be tensions between young people and other park users,” Ruger said. “People who might want to use the large open space to play games [conflict] Being with people who want to sit there and have a picnic… It’s definitely a tension that we think can be easily resolved, especially by creating different areas that give options for people who meet there for different purposes. “

However, there is an opportunity to improve smaller “pocket parks” or even laneways to better serve young people – such as Melbourne’s laneways featuring street art, plants and bushes.

“If you see a place with graffiti, that means there’s an opportunity to make a great mural,” Rugel said. “It will help create a sense of order and feel that this is a well-cared-for place.”

Research has found that green spaces can have a positive impact on mental health by relieving stress and strengthening social connections. During COVID restrictions, lack of access to outdoor spaces directly impacts young people’s mood, concentration and ability to focus on what matters.

Rugel hopes the method will be used as a checklist for improving parks in Metro Vancouver and other cities in the region.

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