Dynamo international in their “Methodology of street work (2008)” discuss the variety of different reasons why young people occupy the public spaces of the local town, city, street or park. Often the rhetoric from policy makers is of boredom, yet the positive reasons that young people occupy these spaces can be from a space to experience freedom, to have power over others, to have confidence, to be themselves, to create new community amongst friends, to share interests. All of these may be evident in the different groups of young people that you may meet on the streets, and others, however, i wonder if over the last few years that there has been a drive to divert young people away from the streets, or at least that the times are a-changing.
Various articles recently have highlighted that there have been reductions in young people drinking, young people starting smoking, and also anti social behaviour. Thats not to say that this has been erradicated, but various interventions have had some effect on this. The legality of public drinking has had some effect, and as will interventions on the accessibility of alcohol, but i wonder whether the streets are less of an attractive place for the young people for more than just the alcohol reason.
As has increased enforced policing, an increase in the presence of adults in City Centre areas – such as detached workers, street pastors and the like, which might mean that these spaces might be safer, supervised and controlled, but that the young people themselves are choosing to be elsewhere to control the space, and seek the positive interactions, power and freedom that the streets used to provide. I am acutely aware that i write this from a leafy situation in rural Devon where ASB is minimal as is public drinking, or seeing any groups on the streets is a rarity.
However, young people are finding themselves, their space online, in developing profiles, images, and community here then this is a seemingly safer space for them to gain the buzz/adrenaline that the streets used to bring for them, and only allows this to be offered until it is a cause for concern. However, along with this, the increased communication of young people between school ending time 4pm and ‘meeting up time’ – using text, facebook, etc means that they no longer have to meet up in the park to communicate, now they communicate and decide to meet if necessary – and especially if its wet/cold etc why bother unless there is something planned? (regardless of what that planning is) This i find more surprising in a small town such as Ottery St Mary, where there is a fairly positive view of young people around and its safe for young people to meet up, they’d still prefer to be at home, skyping each other after school than meeting up in the park, even if they’re allowed to be there.
So my thought that young people communicate to meet up, rather than meet to communicate with each other is a subtle but marked difference. Similarly its even more evident that they communicate to meet up, but when they meet up they are using their phones etc to communicate with others within or out with the present time and space. I know that in the past young people would have found ways of planning to meet up, but a verbal agreement in school, or a landline call are far less encompassing than maybe 20-30 facebook chat messages over a period of an hour, and so the desire to meet up in a less purposeful way might have been decreased.
So, does the space itself need to present more of an attraction for young people to inhabit it than it used to, well i guess so, or maybe this is the cry of the more middle class young people who have TV/XBOX/DVD and all manner of attractions at home- let alone just being warm/dry, and still have an online presence and community in which to communicate with that will give them the same power, confidence, authority, space that the streets used to. Does that mean that the streets still represent a viable space for the ‘more at risk’ young people? who havent the choice to be at home, or that home represents something unsafe? does that present a dichotomy of social navigation for the young person, who has to be on the streets, when others are less likely to be there, is it more alienating than before – and yet is the space becoming more legislated at the same time and thus a more harmful place for the more vulnerable?
Which is the real world then, and where is appropriate for detached youthworkers to operate? Do young people inhabit the public space in a different way than they used to? do they expect it to have more for them than just the space in which to create something out of nothing? Today is Safer Internet Day, and so how might youthwork inhabit the internet whilst upholding values/virtues/principles of practice? Are the ‘fringe’ young people disappearing from the streets, they’re there once or twice but in the main its those who find something or get something about just being there, the adrenaline rush of the chase or the jump on the skate park, or the cruising in the car.
The challenge is how we as detached youth workers adapt in a changing world of young people, detached youthwork is a key way into any groups of young people, and yet does something change in practice given that young peoples intentionality may have changed.