The Teenage City


“The thing to do on prom night 1998 was to take the rented limo up to the lookout on Mount-Royal after a soirée of underage bar-hopping to see the sun rise,” writes Alanah Heffez on Spacing Montreal. “We didn’t make it. Dizzy on newly-discovered drinks, my date and I watched the sun come up from the rooftop of a grocery store around the corner from home.”

The teenager’s city is one of escape, adventure and a constant search “for something to climb, for a hole in the fence, for an undiscovered place, a final frontier to push against,” she writes. Too old to play at home and shut out from other venues (movies get expensive and bars are for the pleasure of the 18-plus), teenagers begin to see the entire city as a playground. “If my experience was any indication, teenagers rely on public space more than almost any other demographic,” Alanah notes.

In response to her post, longtime Spacing reader Maria Gatti pointed out the music video for “Comme des enfants,” a sweet song by Coeur de pirate, also known as Béatrice Martin. We see the young singer-songwriter riding a bike with her boyfriend along the urban fissure of the CPR tracks, drawing romantic things with chalk in the pavement, so on and so forth. But I can’t help but think: this isn’t just child’s play. The CPR tracks are always filled with people doing odd things; in fact, an arts organization I write about far too often spent two years exploiting this youthful fascination with the area around the railroad.

In Montreal, my interest in rooftops reached a turning point when I met a couple whose hobby was to sneak up to them, open a bottle of port and admire the view. I soon started doing the same with my friends. Here in Hong Kong, I often come across people in odd places they probably aren’t supposed to go: fishermen who sneak past fences to sit next to the water, people who walk their dogs through container ports, elderly men and women who have turned a fenced-off hillside into an outdoor living room.

Alanah writes that cities haven’t done enough to consider the needs of teenagers. But maybe the real problem is that we’re ignoring our own teenage impulses, the ones that compel us to push past boundaries and rethink (at least inadvertently) the way we’re meant to use urban space.

This entry was written by Christopher DeWolf , posted on Thursday June 18 2009at 09:06 am , filed under Asia Pacific, Canada, Demographics, Public Space, Society and Culture and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink . Post a comment below or leave a trackback: Trackback URL.

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