The ‘Third Place’ implies the existence of an informal meeting space used to relax from the pressures of home and school. Towns and cities are designed to have a diversity of public places for different purposes. And yet, young people looking to socialise are systematically forgotten and even actively pushed out. We — the youth — are being failed.

Nowhere to Go

Over the decades, there has been a creeping decline in accessible places for teenagers. This, arguably, is a political choice that is having a detrimental effect on our generation. If you’re a child, society provides playgrounds and baby groups. For adults, it’s bars, gyms, cafés and more. But for teenagers at that ‘awkward’ but critical age of development, there is practically nothing. Teenagers have been left to fall through the gap.

Having a third place is important for several reasons. It provides a location for young adults to develop a local network, builds trust by turning strangers into neighbours, and improves people’s emotional well-being. Crucially, it’s an accessible place to make friends and improve social connectivity that’s open to all. Ray Oldenburg, an urban sociologist, studied how third places are an essential part of democracies by encouraging grassroots politics and providing a neutral ground for equality between people. For this reason, we cannot afford to overlook teenagers when it comes to urban planning. The future is built today. In isolating young people from our communities and each other, we lay the foundation for a divided society with less empathy and less fairness.

The Teenage Demographic

Teenagers are a demographic typically considered to have less disposable income and less spending power compared to those in full-time employment. Perhaps, this is why we are a category overlooked by businesses. In a world focused on the bottom line, the social and emotional well-being of a ‘profitless’ group is inconsequential. After all, no business can afford to run a service for people that can’t pay. Rent being notoriously expensive, when a group of teenagers sits in a cafe all day they are taking seats from other customers who will likely buy more and leave faster. Negative stereotypes about adolescents being ‘rowdy’ or ‘disruptive’ hardly help ease prejudices about teenagers scaring away paying customers. The average teenager is a social and economic pariah.

There are plenty of organisations successfully providing vital third places to other demographics. Playgrounds, art centres and libraries are all successful examples of public spaces run by local councils. They support members of the public by providing free social spaces that strive towards equality and inclusion. Nevertheless, young adults are routinely excluded from many of these social hubs. This begs an obvious question (with an apparent answer): why aren’t we a priority? Because we lack political power.

Local elections predictably have low turnouts. Just under 36 per cent of registered voters made their voices heard in 2021. Young people are even less likely to vote and under-18s aren’t eligible to vote in England. When councils are forced to juggle rapidly shrinking budgets, who do you suppose is the first to go? Us. The Teenagers. The In-Betweens. Any other cuts would face more scrutiny and protest but teens can be brushed aside. We’re a problem for another day.

Cut from Society

Across the UK, youth funding has been slashed in the last decade by over 70 per cent. Around 760 youth centres have been forced to close their doors since 2010, with many more programs and activities decisively cut. Teens around the country are being abandoned with nowhere to go and little to do. Young people are being left out in the cold. We can’t let it go unnoticed.

Purposely stripping young people of social spaces and pushing them out of public areas is further demonstrated in anti-loitering policies enacted by individuals, businesses and communities. Loitering is defined as the act of standing or waiting without apparent purpose, what we normally call ‘hanging out.’ Ironically, this vital practice for learning social skills, compassion and cooperation is seen as anti-social behaviour. Some despise loitering to such a degree that they go to the extremes of purchasing expensive alarms, such as The Mosquito, to drive out under 25-year-olds through forcible noise. Protecting upper-class and affluent neighbourhoods from the supposed ‘bad behaviour’ of ‘intimidating’ teens has been widely adopted. However, the over-surveillance and unfair punishment of teens is a dangerous trend. It perpetuates a self-fulfilling prophecy where young people increasingly feel the need to rebel against a community that actively rejects them.

Teach Don’t Preach

Some may argue that social spaces are impossible to create for adolescents because of how unique individual needs can be. While it is true that every person is different, it is equally true that all humans share an underlying desire for community, psychological support, and to connect emotionally.

Yes, third-place examples such as skateparks or music venues appeal to certain niche hobbies and interests. But these are not basic necessities. Neutral public spaces for young adults should be freely available and can be just as meaningful without having any specific purpose attached to them. The broad majority of teenagers are looking for a safe, welcoming place to relax and hang out. A place that simply offers freedom, autonomy and somewhere to unwind from the stresses of home life or schoolwork.

In a perfect world, there would be purpose-built community hubs designed in collaboration with local teens, containing food and mass-appeal activities. Think — speakers to play music, games area, tables and sofas. This would be a space where teenagers can meet independently with minimal supervision and control. Where they can learn what community life is all about and perform the ‘induction’ process into adult society. However, this is the ideal, requiring time, patience and funding to implement. And while it may be an excellent long-term solution, we also need immediate and practical fixes. Cafés, community centres, libraries, town squares, playgrounds and many other public spaces are existing Third Places that can be adapted to fit new needs.

With a change in mindset, teens can be welcomed into public spaces instead of pushed out of them. By treating young people with kindness and respect, we teach them today important values that they can share in years to come. Allow that group of friends to laugh loudly in a cafe. Don’t cross the street when you see young boys goofing around in the town centre. Show some compassion for older kids hanging out in the playground. It’s likely they all have nowhere else to go.

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