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Socialising in his earlier teenage years in Finglas, Donnacha Geoghegan would spend a lot of time just walking around with friends, handing out, sometimes dipping into each other’s houses.
“Other than that, we would once or twice get on a bike and just cycle around,” says Geoghegan, who is now 19.
But most of the time, he’d stay near his house. “There wasn’t really many places to go, you know?” he says.
Dublin City Council has launched the first step towards trying to change that.
It’s running a consultation to ask local teenagers, and their parents or guardians, what’s needed to make it easier and safer for them to hang out, spend time and play.
In June 2020, Caroline Conroy, a Green Party councillor, asked the council to survey teenagers to find out what they want, she says.
She was inspired by her own teenagers’ habits of wandering around looking for something to do, and the dedicated teen spaces in the South Dublin County Council area.
“In Finglas, there just doesn’t seem to be a safe place where they can just be themselves, you know?” she says.
Dublin City Council’s consultation asks teenagers, and their parents or guardians, how safe they feel in different places and where they like to socialise most often.
It asks, also, where people think there should be an outdoor teen space – whether in the village, or in an open green space or park. And details, like should there be Wifi, bins, shelter, or seating?
Conroy said she wanted to make sure that whatever’s put in is what teenagers want and that their voices are heard. “Because that’s what’s lacking.”
Needing a Space
Teenagers just want to hang around, she says, but they often get a bad rep for being too loud.
Some groups of friends sit around on a green not far from where she lives, she says. “Laughing and joking and shouting, roaring, as teenagers do. They’re just boisterous, that’s just their nature.”
But people around the estate get mad, she says. “They’re giving out and want them moved on, they want more guards to push them on.”
Geoghegan says it can be hard to find a place to just be.
Pitches are usually busy at Johnstown Park, between Finglas and Glasnevin. The playground is off-limits, he says, as parents don’t want older kids and teens hanging around.
“I can’t say I’ve been moved on, but I can say that I’ve had a couple parents looking at you a bit weird,” says Geoghegan, “and they’re like, ‘What are you doing here?’”
Geoghegan says he’d like to see something that’s a bit like a playground, but where he and his friends would feel comfortable and welcome.
He’s seen big wooden things in other parks, he says. “They’re not climbing frames but they’re part of a playground or something like that, that’s not specifically for children. That would be cool I think.”
In Collinstown Park in Clondalkin, South Dublin County Council has recently opened what it’s calling a “teenspace”, after an earlier consultation that attracted 500 submissions.
Those who replied said they felt excluded from many public places, says the council’s report of the survey. “They report being unwelcome, feeling unsafe and being deterred by anti?social activity.”
Young people said they wanted places to chat and sit, maybe with swings, climbing and zip lines. They also wanted free Wifi, shelter, a place to play music, toilets and water fonts.
The new teenspace in Collinstown Park has all that, says Peter Kavanagh, an independent councillor for South Dublin.
“The likes of horizontal bars that you can just swing out of, and play on, and as well as that some of the facilities like shelter, wifi, little amplification things,” he says, the last being cones for phone speakers, to play music louder.
Geoghegan says the Collinstown Park teenspace sounds something like what he was imagining. “Like something, a place where you can get seating.”
Otherwise, you end up just sitting on the grass, he says. “I have hayfever, so that’s not very nice to me.”
If there was too much gym or sports equipment though, he says he thinks other groups of people could end up using it.
“It’s kind of awkward to go up when you’re a group of friends, when there’s people using them already,” he says.
Kavanagh says they tried to gender-proof the teenspace there too, and ensure no one felt left out.
“It’s well-lit with multiple access points, and it’s somewhere that’s quite safe in the evenings,” he says.
Safety is important especially for teenage girls, says Susannah Walker, co-founder of UK organisation Make Space For Girls, which campaigns for teenage girl friendly play areas there.
Most play spaces don’t directly intend to exclude teenage girls, she says, but they aren’t specifically considered in the design. “It’s a lot of stuff that wouldn’t surprise you, like decent toilets.”
A space with good lighting, close to foot traffic and not on a dead end, are the base qualities for a teenage-girl-friendly space, she says.
Teenage girls like to be in areas with lots of people passing by, she says. “It’s the sort of passive security of just there being lots of other people in the park.”
Conroy, the Green Party councillor, says every teen space should be safe. In Finglas, it’s not gender-specific, she says. “It was that just teenagers in general were not planned for. They were excluded from park spaces, I felt.”
For now though, Geoghegan and his friends have started to journey out of Finglas to hang out in the city.
“It’s all the same, just walking around into St Stephen’s Green, Merrion Square, sitting down at benches, eating food,” he says. “It gets a bit repetitive, you know?”