Elizabeth Zipper

Why We Need The Space An Editorial

I hadn't heard the term "Youth Space" until a few months ago. Before that it was only a thought, an idea that had no name. Now, after working on this theme issue for WireTap, I still find it hard to define.

Is it the place in society that youth have carved out for themselves? Or is it the place off to the side where adults have put teens? Is it the teen detention centers, juvenile halls, and hostels that have been constructed to shelter youth who are in crisis? Is it skate parks and playgrounds that youth have reclaimed as theirs? Is it the streets and alleys that many youth hang out and often live in? Or is it just a concept that we've created to define where youth should and shouldn't be.

I grew up in a small town in California's Central Valley, that took its youth for granted. Youth space, even as a concept, didn't exist. The roller rink was the cool hang out until I was 14. Then it was the movie theater, friend's houses, or farm house keg parties. A major band did not perform a concert in my town (except for at the county fair) until I was 17. There were no 18+ clubs until I'd left for college. Youth and culture were never used in the same sentence in Visalia. Youth weren't expected to have a culture. They were expected to go to school, to football games, to work, and then to bed.

By the time the weekend came, most of us just wanted somewhere to relax and hang out. That's where the trouble started. My town was completely intolerant of hanging out. There were curfew laws. There were cruising laws. A local playground was torn down because that's where all the 'bad kids' went at night. Skateboarders were chased out of local schools and parks. One local restaurant didn't allow kids to eat inside. A coffee shop where teens hung out was all but put out of business when a sterile Starbucks (parent approved) was built a block away. Everyone cheered because that meant there were fewer kids out on the sidewalks harassing passing drivers.

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