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Toulouse’s Urban Public Spaces As Seen through The Eyes of its Youths: Means of Ownership, Use and Function

Sophie Ruel, Véronique Bordes, Philippe Sahuc, Gaëlle Boutineau

Research framework: Public open spaces offer a variety of configurations and environments that may be observed from different perspectives. For youths, this is a notion that includes a great diversity of profiles and that have been an important political and social issue in France since the 1980s. The public space used by France’s youths are suffering from an outdated approach to how the presence of youths is considered to be a problem that requires a solution.

Objectives: This text aims to explore the modes of appropriation and the functions and uses of Toulouse’s public spaces by young people aged 11 to 28. How are young people’s relationships to urban public space defined? How do these spaces make sense for them? What are their functions? How do young people appropriate and settle in these places? What purpose or use do they serve? What is at play here?

Methodology: These questions will be examined through the use of cartography and ethnographic observation to identify the issues raised by the presence of youths in urban public spaces. This paper presents the results of a study commissioned by Toulouse’s Town Council conducted from December 2012 to June 2013.

Results: The study has shown that the entire city area is affected by the presence of youths and that their use of urban public space, while never predefined, are the result of social construction processes in which youths play an active role.

Conclusions: Urban public spaces are, youths, a rich field for experimentation. They remain spaces of socialization where social relationships are built and where young people explore the public aspects of social life and that shape the conditions for their visibility.

Contribution: This text raises the question of youth, its image and what society wishes for young people. It also examines possible institutional insertion of youths into urban public spaces and makes an important contribution to youth policy research.