Public space is important to teens. Perhaps because, unlike grown ups, they usually have no private space to call their own. Yet groups of teens hanging out in public places often raise the suspicions, and sometimes the ire, of adults.
As Toronto’s Hadley Dyer points out in her introduction to this timely and engaging primer, teens are actually doing something, even as they appear to be doing nothing: they’re learning social engagement without adult interference and figuring out how they fit into their wider community.
Dyer (author of the much-lauded YA novel Johnny Kellock Died Today) notes that determining whether a space is public or private can sometimes be confusing. Some spaces, like malls or cafés, appear to be public but are really private. In many U.S. malls, curfews have been imposed to discourage so-called “mall rats.” Furthermore, there are places such as libraries that are public but have stringent rules attached to their use.
Dyer also shows how the concept of public space has taken on an entirely new relevance in the age of social networking. Sites like Facebook are public in the sense that anyone can sign up and use them, but when teens gather in these virtual social spaces, their every move may be monitored, particularly by eager marketers.
Watch This Space touches on a host of related topics such as public behaviour laws, the suburbs versus downtown, social activism, vandalism and graffiti, as well as what contributes to the success or failure of public spaces. Throughout, Dyer provides interesting comparisons and case studies from various locations around the world.
The book benefits greatly from Marc Ngui’s vibrant illustrations. Using a colourful but restrained palette, his expressive visuals are a wonderful complement to the refreshingly clean text. Both text and illustration shirk the manic busyness that so many books aimed at this cohort resort to.
Watch This Space is a thoughtful, intelligent approach to a topic many teens may not even realize they care so much about.