Q&A with Hadley Dyer
What exactly is a public space?
According to this book, public spaces are places "owned" by everyone, free of charge. Think "public" beaches, parks, gardens, libraries. Public spaces are the places we go to meet new and old friends, enjoy the scenery, watch the world go by or do absolutely nothing. Malls actually are not public. They are owned by private investors. The Internet, technically and surprisingly, is public.
Kim: When I was a teen, I rode my bike everywhere. And our favorite meeting spot was the park.
Hadley: When I was a kid we didn’t have public spaces where we could hang out. We didn’t have public transportation. We rode bikes everywhere and got our drivers license as soon as possible.
Importance for teens:
Kim: Your book brings up some great reasons why public spaces are important, especially for teens, like giving kids a place to hang out without adult interference. But as you mention, and it’s true, adults see kids hanging around and assume trouble.
Hadley: When adults hang around we call it sitting, hanging or gathering. When kids hang out we call it loitering. We forget we’ve all done it. We've stood around. When asked, adults can come up with some unique space where they used to hang out. Kids need to get away from adults and iron things out, and often they do it in public spaces. I’d never say that kids don’t cause trouble, but it’s not always teens. Couldn’t we all do better in our public behavior? Like not picking up after dogs, or not picking your nose. Teens are just a group, they travel in crowds, and they’re very visible. But in fact, once you start looking, you can find all kinds of ways we drive people crazy, and yet we’re primates so we enjoy being together.
Kim: How were you involved in public space issues?
Hadley: As a citizen of my city, I’ve always been one of the letter writers that my city councilmen dread. I got involved in local issues, I pushed for off-leash parks and park clean-ups. I was very aware in the writing that this book is really an introduction to this subject, or a primer. Lots of kids will ultimately read the book maybe through a teacher or librarian. Many kids wouldn’t know what a public space was. I wanted to give concrete ideas to help kids get their heads around this issue and then find their own ideas. It’s an area of a grassroots activism.
Kim: Your book features teens who’ve gotten involved in their local communities. How did you find them?
Hadley: I looked in newspapers and magazines at the local level. I also found a lot of people through word-of-mouth. I tried to capture examples of what’s possible, not necessarily big, expensive landmark campaigns, just regular kids taking on an issue in a realistic way.
Kim: Your book mentions some really cool places. Any favorites?
Hadley: When I became a grownup I did the traditional backpacking through Europe thing. I’ve been fortunate in my career to travel to places like Amsterdam, which has great public spaces. I did get to go to the rainforest where Jane Goodall did her things, which was very interesting because chimps have a lot of same issues that we have. They don’t always like to share, they bug each other then kiss and make up, and, like us, they want to do all these things together.
I wanted to be diverse in the spaces I featured. I didn’t visit all the places in my book, but I talked to locals and travelers, I visited blogs and chat rooms and got first-hand accounts. But I think you don't need some great central park The best public spaces are those that fit the needs of its community.
by Hadley Dyer and Marc Ngui
Kids Can Press, $18.95
At the park pavilion, a group of tweens play barefoot soccer. Near the volleyball court, some high school guys chill in the sun before tossing a Frisbee. On the playground, kids and their tweenage babysitters play don’t-touch-the-ground-tag. An older couple sits on a bench near the lake while a photographer sets up his tri-pod. Where would we be without our parks and public spaces?
They’ve been around the world for centuries. Gathering places, those hangin’ out spots where you meet your pals, play sports, or ride your bike. Ever thought about it? Hadley Dyer has—a lot, which is what inspired this unique book on this important subject. "I’ve always been interested in public space issues," Dyer told me in a recent interview. "They touch on environmental issues, social justice, so many things. I don’t know if kids realize how lucky they are to have good sidewalks, green spaces to go to, and public parks."
Unlike most adults, teens don’t have their own private retreats. Parks, libraries and beaches offer someplace to go, which is actually important, because when you’re there, you’re sorting out who you are and how you fit in. You’re becoming part of a community.
Sharing Space with Hadley Dyer
Public Places Around the World
The Ganges River: Nepal, India & Bangladesh
Federation Square: Melbourne, Australia
Skatepark Westblaak: Rotterdam, Netherlands
Love Park: Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
Al-Azhar Park: Cairo, Egypt
... and many more!
The New Seven Wonders of the World
Ancient city of Machu Picchu: Peru
The Colosseum: Rome, Italy
The Chichen Itza Pyramid: Yucatan Peninsula, Mexico
Christ the Redeemer statue: Rio de Janeiro, Brazil
The Taj Mahal: Agra, India
The Great Wall of China