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A Critical Geographic Approach to Youth Civic Engagement: Reframing Educational Opportunity Zones and the Use of Public Spaces

January 2016

Kevin J. Burke, Stuart Greene, Maria K. McKenna


This article focuses on the ways in which inner-city youth conceptualize public spaces. The authors make it clear that “inner -city” is not meant to represent poor youth of color as it can often be interpreted as, but rather the youth who live in the city and former industrial hubs of the Midwest. The youth used Photovoice, a method of relaying their experiences through photos and other media, to give legitimacy and value to their experiences in areas otherwise unrepresented. They found that this type of methodology paves the way for new discussion on how the youth of an area perceive it. Getting information from the viewpoint of kids helps the author to see that urban developers often do not consider the youth. For example, tearing down neighborhoods for the sake of putting in a new charter school or new housing “misses the ways that children use these spaces to extend their educations”. They see and use these spaces in a way we may not.

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Policy Implications

The clear impact that this research has is when looking into gentrifying neighborhoods. The authors ask the question in their conclusion: “How might a focus on place… in gentrifying communities… awaken a sense of belonging and urgency for community partners to insist on safe and equitable learning and living conditions?” When considering the touchy topic of gentrification, we must take into account the youth’s sense of place on their education and the impact it may play in their lives. How is this sense of place different in the youth, and how will changing this place negatively impact their developmental needs? These are the questions the authors want policymakers and developers to consider.

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