Saturday, March 29, 2008

Problem With Youth

I remember when I was a teenager and we took the bus to Helsinki, we did not hang out in the cute little designer shops - we went to the shopping mall Forum and to the department store Stockmann. At that time I thought Helsinki consisted of the triangle Railway Station - Stockmann - Bus Station. And to be very honest, I was quite content.

Two years ago a gigantic mall called Kamppi was opened in the centre of Helsinki and today - as it would be a grand surprise - the Helsingin Sanomat newspaper writes about the way the teenagers have claimed it their space. They write about how these 13-17-year-olds hang out there every day. According to the article, teenagers come even from the neighbouring towns and municipalities to hang out.

The interviews with the adults really got me annoyed. You found shop owners and real estate maintenance people complaining that these teenagers are using this semipublic space. In the comments on the website under the article someone expressed their concern for the fact that teenagers hang out in a commercial space.However, in the pictures you saw not hoodlums but happy young people. The article described how the teenagers hug and high-five each other and how there seems to be a truly communal feeling.

These views by the adults are concerns that I hear in my work producing StrangerFestival often: public officials are extremely concerned that young people "don't realise" that there are so many services and places provided for them. That they just go and make their own things - a way of working boosted by the Internet.

I find myself often thinking that maybe the problem is that they actually do realise what is on offer but they do prefer spaces where no one tells them what they should be doing. Let's face it, It is guite human actually: none of us really enjoy being pushed around.

Most youth cultures have some sort of rebellion and DIY (Do It Yourself) mentality written into them. This seems very difficult for the well-meaning adults to handle who would rather wish to monitor and control the teenagers. The Kamppi shopping mall case reminds me of the fuss around the Main Post Office and Museum of Contemporary Art KIASMA when a lot of babyboomers and pensioners expressed their great concerns that young skateboarders were using the squares around these buildings for their own use and "even skateboarding around the statue of our national hero Mannerheim". My head is about to explode in discussions like this: the same people who brand teenagers are passive and disinterested, are actually dissing every phenomena where young people are entrepeneurial, visible and creative.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

What's particularly worrying about negative reactions to young people hanging out in semi-private commercialised spaces like shopping malls is the fact that we are completely unwilling to provide any alternative. If young people are unwelcome in such places then where, exactly, should they be? Spaces that used to be entirely public are now subject to regulations imposed by private security firms and retailers. there's nothing very democratic about that, and it's no surprise that those with limited disposable income will get a raw deal - i.e. young people. There was interesting case at a big mall in the UK a couple of years ago which demonstrates the extent to which such places attempt to modify behaviour: