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JOPs: top or flop?

Youth Meeting Place

Youth meeting place, or JOP in Dutch. A sight always puzzling to me. A hangout spot created "especially" for youth, giving them a place they also deserve in society, in public space.


JOP

But the JOPs, the places the youth are given, don't look attractive at all though. To me at least, a piece of steel or half a container does not give me a nice living room feeling. Or is that just me? Often they seem to be tucked away, as far in the back of the community as possible in a place where no one comes. This probably has to do with the "not in my backyard" phenomenon that is quite prevalent around youth. Young people should have a place, but not in my backyard....

 

Biking past a JOP again triggered my curiosity. First to compare what a JOP actually costs compared to, say, a calisthenics park. From a price of around €6.000 to €20.000, JOPs are available in different shapes and sizes. In my opinion, they are all equally unattractive and unchallenging. With a calisthenics park we are roughly towards the same price tag.


Now I also understand that not everyone wants to do pull-ups and that chilling out on a bench is just as necessary. So what do the young people themselves actually want?

 


What do young people themselves want?

This is a question that we (LINES) deal with a lot. After all, we try to bridge the gap between the urban scene (which is often young people) and policy. There is no definite one-sided answer here. Young people, like adults and children, are all different. Some want to hang out and feel comfortable in that place and others want something totally different.


A study in Antwerp looked at the importance of hanging out. Why do young people hang out in public spaces?

  • It helps them form their own identity.

  • It is beneficial for social cohesion among young people, forming social traits and creating friendships.

  • It is a moment in the developmental stage where they distance themselves from authority figures and begin to mirror like-minded people. So it is part of the development toward becoming an adult.

  • It develops norms and values.

  • It realizes bonding with the neighborhood and hometown.

(Hang Youth as Hidden Experts, 2021)

 

In other words, it is part of young people's development toward adult life. Standing on one's own feet, doing what one wants and creating social skills. Something at odds with what many in the social field are also sparring about:

  • Young people don't move enough.

  • They're on their phones too much

  • They have fewer social skills

  • They game too much

  • They don't get outside enough

  • Etc.


So in that sense, a JOP is quite a nice invention. Because if it really realizes a place where youth can develop themselves, of course that's great! However, the appearance of most JOPs does not sit well with me. Especially now that I know the price of such a unit. Furthermore, we can calculate how many young people it serves. If you have a neighborhood with 300 young people and there are 6 sitting spots in a standard JOP, how big is the group that draws in (Maurice Doggen, 2008)?

 

Unfortunately, I can't offer a solution today to the issues described around youth. What does strike me is the frame in which JOPs are promoted by various contractor companies:

  • By placing a JOP, you as a municipality determine where young people hang out so they no longer cause a disturbance elsewhere.

  • The JOPS are vandal-proof and low-noise.

  • Young people are often associated with trouble, so choose a JOP....

  • With a JOP, you ensure that young people can be a burden to others as little as possible.


As if all young people are the cause of all the trouble people experience. A very generalizing picture is painted by various parties. All from the point of view of the angry neighbor who can't stand the neighborhood kids. But where are the contractor parties looking at it from the youth's point of view? That seems to me to be the solution. Ask the youth what they need and work in co-creation to create places that are for everyone, so that we know how to create an inclusive public space.

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