By Susannah Walker and Imogen Clark, Make Space for Girls
When councils and developers think about providing for teenagers, this usually means one of three things: a skate park, a multi-use games area or a BMX track. A trinity which has been encoded into play strategies and replicated up and down the country.
Except there’s one problem. These aren’t spaces for all teenagers. They are predominantly used by boys. As data collected for Skateboard GB shows, 85% of skateboarders are male.
Hiding in plain sight is an uncomfortable truth. The parks and public spaces we design predominantly attract boys and young men, while they may even deter girls and young women.
Basic principles of fairness make this wrong, but there are many other reasons why we need to address this inequality. Only 8% of teenage girls meet activity guidelines, but somehow this is rarely linked to them not having anything to be active on. Safer parks with more girls in them work better for the whole community. Furthermore, it’s the law. The Equality Act 2010 including the Public Sector Equality Duty require councils and other public bodies to consider how they will eliminate discrimination. Which means they have to reconsider how their parks are working for teenagers.
These are the issues that our charity, Make Space for Girls, has been set up to address. Our aim is firstly to draw attention to the problem, but also to work with academics, councils, architects and developers – and anyone else who is interested – to create public spaces which do work for teenage girls.
The good news is that this isn’t difficult to fix. In several European countries, parks have been redesigned with and for teenage girls, and so we have some general principles about how design can work better. These include:
- Safer parks with better toilets and good lighting;
- A good network of paths which go round the perimeter, don’t have dead ends and aren’t hidden by vegetation;
- Spaces broken up into smaller areas so no one group can dominate;
- Wider entrances in and out of areas.
Teenage girls also like swings (lots of swings, with big enough seats), sociable seating, hammocks, stages, gym bars and climbing walls. And there are plenty of girls who want to skate and play football too, so we need to redesign these spaces to make them more welcoming.
But most importantly we have to involve teenage girls in the design. They are the experts on where they live and they understand what makes them feel welcome. So, when we redesign a park, we shouldn’t just engage with the current users: we need to engage with the girls who don’t think the park is “for them”. Because it’s time to make space for girls.