“I smell flowers.” “Pizza from a cob oven.” “Picking strawberries.” Teenagers were walking across an empty field beside an abandoned tennis court. They were co-designing a garden for their school, Britannia Secondary in Vancouver. The teens were participating in a youth co-design program conducted by Susan Chung and Stanley King.
Susan Chung is a science and biology educator. Stanley King is a pioneer in public participation. Together, they have developed a youth engagement approach that fuses the co-design process with ecology and place-based education for teens. Their engagement process gets to the heart of what every designer is after: if this place was designed exactly to the users’ satisfaction, what would they be doing? Yet, the questions that invite youth to co-design are so simple that they’ve been met with some disbelief: “That's it? Really?”
What do you see, hear, smell in this place? How would you move around? What would you do in a 24 hour day, in a month, in a year? How would you interact with people in your environment? Let’s rehearse this in a co-design drawing.
Susan and Stanley explain that the ecological focus of these questions cuts through left-brained thinking about solutions to a more primitive approach. These are questions that could be asked of any organism on earth. “Starfish, what would you smell here, in your ideal world? Who are you interacting with?” A starfish might imagine a clam or a dancing kelp bed, while youth co-designing a schoolyard imagine eating lunch and lying on the grass together.
If anyone had any doubt about the effectiveness of the approach, these doubts are erased when they see the results. In last month’s IAP2 webinar on youth engagement, Susan and Stanley demonstrate how their process has enabled youth to participate in the design of a waterfront, a library space, urban gardens, and parks. Their design data is whimsical, creative, playful, and often prescient. Forty years ago, Stanley led teenagers around a large parking lot in the middle of downtown Vancouver and asked similar co-design questions. The youth envisioned lush green-space, outdoor eating, chairs for lovers, and ice skating under a dome. And, like a sensitive chef, listening to the stated tastes and textures desired by his clients, Arthur Erickson's design team created Robson Square.
About the Contributors:
Stanley King and Susan Chung are co-authors of the Youth Manual for Sustainable Design: Stanley is a pioneer in public participation and he developed the City on the Wall and co-design process. Susan is a science and biology educator, integrating co-design with ecology and place-based education for teens. Visit their blog at: http://youthmanual.blogspot.ca
Missed the webinar on Youth Engagement? Members can catch up on this webinar and review other past webinars at: http://www.iap2canada.ca/webinars
IAP2’s webinars usually take place the third Tuesday of the month and are free for Members. See what’s coming up at: http://www.iap2canada.ca/events