Teen vs. Adult Perceptions of Urban Green Space

While demand for urban park space has been increasing, information about the sorts of urban park space preferred by various user groups is uneven. Children and teenagers, for example, constitute a leading group of urban park users, yet are largely ignored in preference surveys. A team of researchers from University of Southern California is learning how inner city teens perceive and use green spaces.
Findings suggest that teens just want trees and grass, as close to home as possible.

Results from an inner-city teen focus group on parks and urban green space in Los Angeles, California and responses to parallel questions posed to adults from the same area show striking differences. While adults focused on activities and cited a need for additional recreation-oriented parks for teens, teenagers themselves focused on greened spaces suitable for socializing and relaxing. Teens were also keenly interested in local parks, aware of maintenance issues, and concerned about personal safety. Teen participants’ attitudes towards urban open and/or green space revolved around three primary foci: multiple uses for park space, safety issues, and concerns about trash and maintenance.
Findings reveal that teen responses varied dramatically from adult responses to similar queries, and they emphasized pragmatic yet innovative approaches to increase local greening. While adults opted for more and new green spaces, especially greening parking lots, teens suggested creating parks out of alleyways and tunnels, and emphasized maintenance over expansion. These results accentuate the importance youth participation in planning, with the goals of increasing inclusion and broadening the knowledge of decision-makers.
The responses support burgeoning research that indicates youthful voices challenge adult perceptions and thus underscore the value of youth participation. Adults’ propensity for creating relatively large-scale new spaces that require specific, structured, and typically supervised participation is at odds with teens’ desires for casual open spaces that permit a range of youth-controlled social activities. The underlying theme that emerged from the student responses was an interest in and affiliation with neighborhood parks and simple activities. Students expressed little, if any, affection for urban green or open space beyond grass and trees within their immediate home and school neighborhood.
This study’s results suggest the importance of paying close attention to the attitudes toward open and/or green space held by diverse youth. The urban teenagers participating in this research- living in a park-poor, high density area – were aware of and had experienced personal and collective benefits from parks. Although they had not been directly queried previously regarding their urban open and green space preferences, they voiced clear and consistent desires and concerns. They were also keenly aware of safety and maintenance issues, recognizing their responsibility and accountability. Both their experiences and their preferences appear specific to local geography, further underscoring the value of a breadth of local knowledge to inform local planning.
The research paper also contains suggestions about how to best structure focus groups to collect teen input for local design projects. Researchers said that the focus group was relatively simple to organize and implement, and yielded immediate data. The authors obtained first-hand understanding of the issues and concerns of the youth regarding urban parks and open space.
To read the full paper, visit the University of Colorado at Boulder.