“Education does not transform the world. Education changes people. People change the world.” – Paulo Freire

Recently, I received a request to inform a project focused on designing a youth space. The requester had read my book, A Short Guide to Holistic Youth Development, and wanted to know how to proceed. Without a lot more information, I shared these thoughts.

I see two options:

If a space is going to be truly holistic for youth, it must reflect the will of the young people who will use it most as well as the technical specifications of the designer and the requirements of the regulations governing the space. Rather than prescribe the specific places within the center, the designer should provide a foundation of knowledge and a menu of options for the youth who are going to use it, and then co-design the space accordingly. With young people, a designer could bring together a focus group and gather the thoughts, opinions, ideas and wisdom of youth in order to not merely inform the design process, but to actually co-design the space with appropriate capacity building and full authority throughout the process. The final product should reflect their intentions, or a mutual compromise with the designer. 

If that is not possible, it would be most relevant to design a multi-use space providing the highest degrees of function, variability, and ease of use for the participants. In this case, the open interactive spaces you suggest may be best; however, it’s still important to have interactive elements like moveable walls, furniture, etc. as well as the continual and overt permission of adults to move, use, and otherwise treat the space according to their intentions for it.

Its important to consider the different ways that youth are involved in this kind of effort. Holistic development suggests that youth be treated not as incomplete vessels simply awaiting adult guidance, information and decision-making; instead, it re-informs the relationships between youth and adults by empowering young people as full humans throughout their lives. That includes the design of the physical spaces intended to serve them.

Does that make sense? I guess that ultimately I’m concerned these projects often reflect the needs of well-meaning but poorly enacted designers’ plans. Alternatively, they’re relevant for a single affected generation of youth, but become irrelevant to succeeding generations of young people.

Share your thoughts in the comments? More ideas the better…

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Published by Adam

Adam F. C. Fletcher helps organizations engage people more successfully. Contact him by calling (360) 489-9680 or emailing info@adamfletcher.net.

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