Youth Spaces and Places: Case Studies of Two Teen Clubs


  • Karla A. Henderson
  • Kathryn (Kat) King


teen clubs, teen centers, social space, programming, case studies


Recreation programmers seem to know quite a bit about what young people need, but we know less about what youth want and how social spaces and places provide a context for identity development. Leisure programmers and researchers have not paid enough attention to the importance of geography or space as contributors to the recreation experience. The purpose of this paper was to explore how young people attached meanings to publicly supported recreation opportunities designated as teen spaces. We describe some of the dimensions of the cultural and social geography of youth leisure based on case studies done in two publicly funded teen clubs in a Southeastern university community. These case studies were used to obtain data helpful to understanding young people's interests and needs and how teen clubs as leisure spaces were viewed.One teen club existed at a multipurpose recreation center and functioned as a meeting place for doing and planning recreation activities at a specific time during the week. The second teen club was run partially as a non-profit youth group but with programming oversight by the park and recreation department during set afternoon hours and weekends. Both teen clubs studied were effective in attracting young people, but issues existed at each about organizational structure and youth culture. A major issue was the need to rationalize the allocation of public, physical spaces for both structured and relatively unstructured leisure. Although the concept of space has concrete boundaries, the sense of place for young people relates to perceptually and socially produced dimensions ( Mowl & Towner, 199 5; Tuan, 1977). Recommendations based on these case studies may be useful to teen club recreation programmers and to individuals interested in research and evaluation related to structured and unstructured leisure opportunities as well as the geography of youth culture. Among the suggestions offered were to further explore how sense of place is essential to consider in youth programming; to examine how unstmctured time and relaxed leisure spaces may be a way to engage youth in other, more structured recreation activities; and to use a variety of data sources, including the possibilities of peer interviewers to collect data.If recreation spaces are to be "places" imbued with meanings, teen programmers may need to better balance the need for relaxed leisure as part of a structured environment. Although unstructured leisure does not appear to be as developmentally important as structured activities, it may be important and useful for some groups of young people. Further research needs to be undertal<en to determine how teen programming can be efficacious with the focus on meaningful and safe places for youth development to occur.





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