The Walking Neighbourhood hosted by children : Negotiations of public space by young people
The participatory art project The Walking Neighbourhood hosted by children is an arts and research collaboration that provokes rethinking of the geographies of fear (Valentine, 2004) that control children’s limited access to the public sphere (e.g., see Gill, 2007, Malone, & Rudner, 2011), and perpetuate commonly held perceptions of children as incompetent becomings (e.g., see Coady, 2008). The Walking Neighbourhood project confronts the public imaginary through public performance of child-led neighbourhood walks that foreground children’s visibility and independence in public spaces. The project supports the inclusion of children and children’s perspectives in urban participation. To date the project has taken place in Fortitude Valley, Brisbane, Australia; Old Chiang Mai City, Chiang Mai, Thailand; Bagot, Darwin, Australia; Seoul, Korea; Redfern and Kings Cross, Australia; Kuopio, Finland.
Adult audience members interviewed after experiencing a child-led walk consistently speak with delight of the experience and how it invoked them to understand children and the neighbourhood differently, cultivating (re)thinking and (re)imagining of children, childhood and public spaces, effectively offering what Sandlin, Schultz and Burdick (2010) refer to as public pedagogy. Two professions who have voluntarily declared the impact of The Walking Neighbourhood project on their practice are urban designers and city councillors. Urban designers intently listen to and observe the young walk hosts interactions with urban spaces and assert the inclusion of consultation with children in their future designs. City councillors see the performance of child-led walks as a means to foreground the inclusion of children and families in council policy and plans. In sum, the project produces intergenerational civic learning and engagement, which in turn builds stronger communities. Cultural exchange between participants furthers intercultural understandings and empathy nurturing social participation of young people as active citizens of urban communities today.
The innovation of this arts-research collaboration has been recognized through the awarding of The University of Queensland Faculty of Social & Behavioural Sciences Innovation Award (2013) and internationally through a Walk21 Walking Visionaries Jury Prize (2015).