Lending a voice to urban youth

International partnership explores hidden side of cities

Ideally, public space should belong to us all. Everyone is free to use it; everyone infuses it with life in their own way. Public space changes depending on its intended nature and context. It is designed to play a role in society, but it is actually society that defines its role. From Montréal to Hanoi, from Mexico City to Paris, young people shape, transform and take ownership of public space, giving it a meaning that the Transformative Youth Spaces partnership will seek to understand.

Initiated by Julie-Anne Boudreau, a professor at the Institut national de la recherche scientifique (INRS), along with her team and her collaborators, Tryspaces launched with an unusual meeting in fall 2017. Forty representatives from 26 partner organizations in the university, techno-artistic and social sectors participated in the meeting. Orchestrated by dynamic coordinator Alexia Bhéreur-Lagounaris, the group worked for two days to set up projects, and put in place mechanisms for collaboration and creation. 

Four cities are under Tryspaces’ microscope: Montréal, Paris, Hanoi and Mexico City—four very different realities that will host “living lab” projects and yield data. For example, one of the case studies will explore how street art, initially seen as delinquent, has been quietly institutionalized in Montréal. How does subversion survive institutionalization? 

In Hanoi, Tryspaces will study the fate of stigmatized young rural migrants. How do they adapt their behaviour in public spaces in response to discrimination?

In each of the cities, public spaces open doors on to various transgressive universes. As defined by Tryspaces members in their start-up meeting, transgressiveness can constitute an affirmation, a resistance, or a learning experience, but it always signifies a break in relationship (social, with authority, etc). Interpreting transgressiveness will allow the teams to uncover less obvious motivations and realities.

The partnership will adopt a collaborative research approach and foray into the hidden side of the cities over a six-year period. Teams will forge bonds with young people through performances and tools such as narrative mapping and multimedia creation. The data gathered will be used to inform public policy, develop guides for action and other interventions. 

Instead of punishing transgressiveness, it is better to listen to what it is telling us. 

 Four cities on video

by Vincent Baumont

by Leila

by Kabisha

Mexico City
by Rodrigo Olvera

This article is excerpted from a story written by Stéphanie Thibault, communications advisor at INRS. It was first published on January 9, 2018 (in French), on the INRS website.