Creating Better Cities with Children and Youth: A Manual for Participation
Driskell, David (2002).
Paris/ London: UNESCO/ Earthscan; $32.50. ISBN 92-3-103815-x (UNESCO); 1-85383-853-5 (Earthscan).
David Driskell’s book Creating Better Cities with Children and Youth: A Manual for Participationprovides a comprehensive guide for engaging children in the communitydevelopment process. It is written for urban planners, government andnon-profit agencies, educators, and others involved in communitydevelopment who already believe in the value of youth involvement andare seeking guidance on implementation. As author Driskell notes, thebook’s focus is on “field-tested approaches and methods for makingit [participation] happen” (17), rather than convincing the reader ofthe value of children’s participation. That being said, the book issprinkled with useful bits of theory and real world examples that lendsupport to the benefits of this inclusive approach to development.
The ideas and principles presented in the book have been developedand tested through the international Growing Up in Cities project. Thisprogram (a revival and expansion of Kevin Lynch’s project that occurredin the 1970s) has engaged youth from a variety of cities throughout theworld in researching and understanding their relationship to their ownneighborhoods, as well as in action directed at improving thelivability of their local environment. By integrating case studies fromthis program into the text, Driskell effectively connects theory andpractice. More detailed descriptions of each project are given in thebook’s companion volume, Growing up in an Urbanizing World edited by Louise Chawla.
Creating Better Cities is well-organized and clearly written. The firsttwo chapters provide a brief overview of the basic concepts andbenefits of youth participation in community projects. While thesechapters are geared toward those who are less familiar with this area,even seasoned practitioners will find the concisely written chaptersworth reviewing. The first chapter concludes with a particularlyintriguing assignment- a self-evaluation of the reader’s own city as aplace for young people to live. This exercise effectively sets the tonefor the book as a practical guide by having readers frame the book’scontent with their own place/project site in mind. The second chapterprovides a description of what defines participation and how to makeyoung people’s participation “real.” There is a figure that illustratesvarious types of participation (ranging from “decoration” to “shareddecision-making”). This framework builds upon Hart’s (1999) “ladder ofchildren’s participation,” which depicts increasing degrees ofchildren’s initiative in a project as being on correspondingly higherrungs of the participation ladder. Driskell ranks each type ofparticipation based upon two separate components: 1) the relative powergiven to participants and 2) the level of interaction with thecommunity. While the resulting diagram is more complex and requiresmore effort to comprehend than Hart’s ladder, it better represents thecomplexities involved in defining and carrying out a participatoryprogram.
Chapter three begins with the warning: “one of the most commonreflections at the end of participatory projects is that not enoughtime was spent thinking through and preparing for the process before itbegan” (48). Chapters 3 to 5 provide useful guidance on the steps thatcan be taken to avoid this frequent problem. The Process Designworksheet provided in Chapter 4 is a particularly useful tool forthinking though the process of a given project in a systematic mannerprior to its implementation. This chapter also includes a short sectionon age-appropriate activities. Unfortunately, the relationship betweenchildren’s age, and their psychological/cognitive readiness for certaintypes of action (such as those that require abstract thinking) is notaddressed. This is regrettable as the book represents an opportunity toexpose planners and policy makers to the importance of developmentallyappropriate activities in providing meaningful experiences forchildren. An acknowledgment of the significance of this relationship(along with some suggested readings) would strengthen this section.
Chapter 6 provides an extensive “participation toolkit”- adescription of methods that may be used to facilitate participation,including interviews, behavioral mapping and focus groups. Each methodis written in a way that allows it to “stand alone”- individualmethodologies can be photocopied and distributed during trainingsessions without losing the information needed to implement it. AsDriskell notes, this format results in some redundancies but enhancesthe usefulness of the manual. A chart at the beginning of the chaptersummarizing the strengths and weaknesses of each method (e.g., timerequired, resources, familiarity with participants etc.) would beuseful in helping direct the user to the methods most relevant to theirwork.
The final chapter examines how evaluation results can betranslated into action programs. A complete review on how to analyzethe data is far beyond the scope of this manual, but Driskell does anexcellent job providing general guidelines and useful resources to aidin the process. This chapter’s emphasis on setting achievable goals isalso noteworthy. It strikes a nice balance between encouraging thereader to think “outside the box” and promoting realistic objectives.This is important as setting unattainable goals may result in negative,disempowering experiences for youth participants.
The manual provides a useful framework for planning and implementingdevelopment projects that engage children and youth in a meaningfulway. In particular, use of this manual will help its users to steerclear of the most common pitfalls encountered in these initiatives.That being said, it should not be viewed as a cookbook for youthparticipation. Driskell’s closing remarks highlight the importance ofthe non-replicable aspect of these projects: “The magic lies in thepeople who make participation happen, and the human interactions thatenlighten us, inspire us, and- in the end -provide the essential andlasting foundation on which better cities can be built” (176). Themanual is a useful tool but building a truly successful project alsorequires energetic and innovative users.
Hart, Roger A. (1997). Children’s Participation: The Theory and Practice of Involving Young Citizens in Community Development and Environmental Care. London: Earthscan Publications Ltd.
Yale/Urban Resources Initiative
Lianne Fisman received her BSc. in Environmental Science from McGill University and her MESc. from the Yale School of Forestry. She is currently working on her doctoral degree in Urban Planning at MIT. Lianne is also the Environmental Education Coordinator at the Yale/Urban Resources Initiative in New Haven, CT. She teaches an urban ecology program in a number of public schools and conducts research on the students’ environmental awareness and neighborhood perceptions.