The Nineteenth Annual Berkeley Undergraduate Prize for Architectural Design Excellence 2017
Berkeley Prize 2017

[ID:1898] Proposal for a network of youth generated community environments in the city of Glasgow

United Kingdom

The Berkeley Prize Essay Competition

Proposal for a network of youth generated community environments in the city of Glasgow. :

“Seeing the city through the eyes of different groups is crucial as a means of empowerment, and as a way of gaining insight into different perspectives” (Landry, 2000: p.75)

The youth of Glasgow have much to offer society. Their energy, creativity and enthusiasm are however, at present either confined to the parameters of the formal education system, or channelled to leisure time uses that offer little scope for personal, or community development. Moreover, there is, in general, a lack of facilities which encourage positive interaction with not only their peers, but also other members of society. It is the aim of this proposal to give the youth of Glasgow the opportunity to benefit from their local environment, by means of their own contribution.

This is a proposal with the intent of giving the youth of Glasgow an opportunity to work together to create and maintain a venture in their community; to interact, understand and improve upon their relationships with members of those communities by actively participating in the physical and social improvement of their local environment. At present, there are several initiatives in the Glasgow area tailored to youth development. These consist of independent drop-in and youth action schemes set up by adults for the benefit of youths. This proposal differs in that it calls for the creation of a city-wide framework, within which the youths create and implement their own initiatives according to their perceptions of the issues affecting their local communities.

The City of Glasgow:

The City of Glasgow over the last fifty years has undergone a significant transformation. From a city economy primarily dependent on the ship building industry in the early part of the 20th Century, Glasgow has become a city based on service and cultural industries. It is now regarded as a major retail centre in the United Kingdom, second only to London.

The transition from primary to tertiary-based industry has seen a concerted effort on the part of the authorities to encourage investment into the city. Although this can be seen generally, as a successful venture, its impact has to some extent been restricted to within the core of the city centre. (Mooney and Danson, 1997: p.78) As a result, many of Glasgow’s inner city and peripheral estates often have the feel of social and economic self-containment and isolation from the city centre. This isolation from the attractions offered in the city centre, coupled with the financial constraints of reaching city centre facilities has meant that the streets of outlying areas have become the primary place of activity for many young people.

The housing estates of Glasgow commonly comprise of large areas of residential housing served by a row of small shops and business premises. Much of the day-to-day community life and social interaction takes place in the vicinity of these commercial strips. They are the social magnets for peripheral areas, which are often overwhelmingly residential in nature and lack the traditional essence of the street.

Due to the vast array and concentration of services available in the city centre, and the limited customer base provided by individual residential areas, un-let and vacant premises within these commercial strips are a common sight. These premises often lie dormant for considerable periods of time while their futures are decided and their presence can have a detrimental effect to the community life of an area.

The sight of consistently empty premises in relatively small commercial strips conveys a sense of economic failure to its inhabitants and outsiders alike. As a result, a lack of ownership and accountability is affiliated with the premises, around which an air of abandonment and degradation can develop. Furthermore, the fewer the number of attractions that are present for the community in the commercial strip, the greater the extent to which normal street activity is reduced, taking with it the level of, and opportunity for, passive supervision and everyday interpersonal exchange.

As the social and activity centre of residential areas, the commercial strips naturally attract the youth element of the community. When present for sustained periods of time - often in groups, the energy and animation of youth can be perceived as a threatening presence to other street users, such as the elderly. Often, the prolonged lack of suitable youth facilities results in social disturbance and damage to property. This anti-social behaviour can lead to interactions between street users being reduced negative perceptions and conflict, potentially acting as a catalyst for the further degradation of the area. (Wilson and Kelling [1982] 2003: p.267-276)

Proposal:

“Social education…. demands young people’s involvement in the relevant situations and inter-relationships, it demands that they know first-hand and feel personally how common interests and shared activities bring and keep people together…. they will experience directly the conflicts and strains and the effort, as well the opportunities and satisfactions, which are created by them.” (Davies and Gibson 1967: p.15)

In order to give the youth of Glasgow an opportunity to make a contribution to their local environment, this paper proposes that a network of Creative Groups be implemented in communities throughout the city. The groups, comprised of up to three adult mentors and ten youths, would be organised through local schools. The school would act as the ‘parent body’ for the Group, ensuring that the mentors are suitably trained and vetted for their role. The Group would essentially be an ‘after- school initiative’, with the school providing a recognised, supervised, secure environment in which the Group could work. This is also beneficial for the school as being directly involved with an initiative to improve the local environment, and forging links within the community through the positive actions of its pupils could raise the profile of the school as a community body.

The Creative Group would approach Glasgow City Council, who, along with private landlords, would donate a lease on one their empty premises in the local area, for the use of the Creative Group. The lease would be for a set period of time corresponding to the term time of the school, with the option of an extension, depending on the success of the scheme, and any potential commercial future of the premises. The temporary nature of the contract is beneficial as it allows the formation a Creative Group and the implementation of any scheme, within the scope of an academic year. This would mean potentially, that successive year groups in a school would become involved in the Creative Group and either assume control of a previous scheme, or begin a new scheme on the same or different premises. The intent of the proposal is not to create an everlasting facility based on the ideas of one relatively small group of individuals, the intent is to involve many youths in the processes and responsibilities inherent in the creation of such schemes, with the anticipated outcome being youths of increased self and social awareness, whilst creating a facility for the benefit of the wider community.

The Creative Groups would be tasked with producing a proposal for the vacant space, for the benefit of the wider community. Throughout this period, the group would be given the opportunity to consult with other groups in the community, such as the elderly, police and local businesses in order to ascertain the needs and possible effects a particular scheme may have. In doing this, they will be made aware of the perspectives of others in the community and interact with a wide spectrum of organisations and individuals. This involvement in the structure and operation of their community is designed to garner a greater appreciation of their responsibilities and the consequences of their actions as an age group. Having decided on a short list of schemes, the group would then set about presenting and disseminating their ideas to the local community, giving others the opportunity to express their opinions and become involved.

With the help of volunteers, the local authority and local businesses, the creative group would set about transforming their space; manifesting their ideas into a useable product. The process of this transformation will require considerable effort and effective group work. Through the delegation of responsibility, it is hoped that the youths will be exposed to the effect of their actions in relation to their local community. They will be involved in something tangible, engaging creatively not only with their peers, but with others in the community with whom they may normally have very limited contact. They will sense the anticipation of creating something new, and experience the effect of that creation compared to the allocated space in its previous incarnation. The intent is to enable the youths the opportunity to experience making a positive, physical contribution, invoking the realisation of their value in the community and their potential in improving that community. The Creative Group would be responsible for the maintenance and upkeep of the premises during the lease period, allowing the development of sustained relationships with the local authority, businesses and community groups.

Funding:

Funding is an important aspect of any initiative. In this case, funding would be crucial to the viability of any scheme. To ensure an even distribution across the city’s many diverse areas, a central fund, invested and managed by the City Council would be the principle means by which the initiative would be financed. In addition to financial input from the Council, this fund could then be donated to or sponsored by local people and businesses wishing to express their belief and support in the youth of the city. Each individual scheme would be required to be cost planned and approved before any property was assigned to a Group, before receiving a set budget for the transformation of the space. In addition to this, all expenditure by the group would be supervised and approved by the adult mentors. Regular meetings between Groups and the fund managers would be held in order to discuss and monitor project process. Again, the reliance is placed upon the individuals in the Creative Groups, but it is placed within the boundaries of a monitored and controlled system, thereby ensuring the proper and appropriate and sustainable usage of funds.

The issue of funding is potentially contentious, however it is anticipated that the Creative Groups, in terms of physical input and time, will more than match the financial outlay of the City Council. The financial outlay can be viewed as more of an investment in the development of the city, both in terms of the experience and skills gained by the youths involved in the Creative Groups, but also in the subsequent improvements to community life generated by the schemes.

Hypothetical example:

A school applies to form a Creative Group among its students, who have volunteered to take part in the scheme. The school serves a residential area on the periphery of the city. The perception of youth in the local community is not good. Their habitual use of the local shops as a gathering point is seen as threatening and they are subsequently being blamed for social disturbances and vandalism. At present, one of the commercial units is unoccupied and has been for a considerable period of time. The shop-front has been vandalised and is now an eyesore on an otherwise well used and relatively well kept street. It is felt that if this space could be donated to the Creative Group, the resulting scheme could go some way to resolving some of the problems whilst improving the perception of the local youth in the community.

The Council, who own the premises, provisionally accepts the application subject to the proposal for its transformation being approved. The Creative Group undertakes a period of consultation with their peers, local businesses and the police in order to understand the issues affecting the local community. As a result of this, they realise that the needs of their peers are underrepresented and that there is a lack of facilities with which people of their age can engage positively with the community. They propose to turn the space into a youth drop-in centre, providing a study area, an internet connection, seating area, and notice boards. The space would run on a pre-booking basis at peak times, and could be booked entirely by groups for specific activities. Notice boards would display employment opportunities and community events. Two adults would act as voluntary caretakers for the space on a shift arrangement, assisted by, and liasing directly with Creative Group members.

The centre would be a focal point of interaction between community groups with meetings between the various parties would be held regularly to discuss the success of the scheme and other local issues.

The drop-in centre creates an environment outside of the confines of school that is conducive to the development and inclusion of youths in the community. It provides an independent forum in which they can air their views and opinions and provides an outlet for information and activities that they would otherwise be unaware of. The shop-front restores activity to the street, and affords a visible reference point to the rest of the community.

Conclusion

The individual nature of the Creative Groups schemes would naturally reflect the specific circumstances of the local areas, but as a general concept, it is believed that schemes will invoke a greater awareness among the youth of Glasgow of the environment in which they live, and utilise the untapped potential of youth for the benefit of the wider community. This awareness, it is hoped, will develop through the involvement in the process of creating and maintaining their own projects. The intent of the scheme is to enable the youth of Glasgow to an opportunity to define, acknowledge, understand and attempt to resolve an issue or need in their local community. By this process, the youths will encounter and gain insight into the perspectives of other members of the community, strengthening their status as a group in the community by setting an example of the positive role youth can play in society.

This proposal aims to create a vehicle with which the youth of Glasgow can gain valuable and necessary experience and skills for the future, whilst making a valuable contribution to the development of their present local environment. With the implementation of this proposal, Glasgow will become a city of precedent, a city challenging and utilising the full potential of its citizens, and a city engaging with its future.

Bibliography

Landry, Charles, 2000. The Creative City: A Toolkit for Urban Innovators. Earthscan, London

Mooney, Gerry and Danson, Mike, 1997. Beyond ‘Culture City’: Glasgow as a ‘Dual City’. In Jenson, Mike and Macgregor, Susanne (ed.) Transforming Cities: Contested Governance and New Spatial Divisions. Routledge, London and New York

Sanoff, Henry, 2000. Community Participation Methods in Design and Planning. John Wiley and Sons, Toronto.

Thomas, Nigel, 2001. Listening to Children, in: Foley, Pam, Roche Jeremy and Tucker Stanley (ed.) Children in Society: Contemporary Theory, Policy and Practice, Palgrave, Houndmills. pp.104-111

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