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What is “Safe Passage” For Teens?

The first weekend of November, our fall design team was stuck inside because of the snow. We were “unpacking” the Youth Public Space Plan, a list of “next steps” for making the city less hostile toward teens. The fifteen teens, working in groups of 3 or 4, were struggling with the difference between “steps in the process” and “strategies.”

The Youth Public Space Plan is a combination of both. Created by our teams in Albany Park, Austin and Uptown at the end of their summer programs, it includes suggestions like “Take over a closed elementary school and make it Territory” and steps in the process, like “Talk to local businesses.” Our fall team prioritized three design project ideas from the list of 27 next steps: 1) make schools safer, 2) make places where people can talk about their feelings, and 3) create “safe passage” for teens.

One key observation made by our team in Austin last summer was that the safest routes in dangerous neighborhoods are the “Safe Passage” routes for elementary school kids. These routes feel safest because neighbors and community members are guarding the path. This observation resonates with every teen who travels to school, whether on foot or by bus, train or bike. They know when they feel safe, and they know when they don’t.

Because journeying across the city is a near universal experience for teens, the team chose creating Safe Passage for teens as their design problem for the fall. The team is looking at the whole of a teen’s route, including walking, waiting, taking a bus – train – rideshare – bike, and the transitions in between, and how design can improve the experience for teens.

This week is “Discovery” week in the studio. The teens are writing hypotheses about what makes bus stops safer, creating a youth-to-youth survey about how young people experience travel across the city, and digging up data that helps back up their anecdotal expertise. The professional pin-up is in December.