Children's Common Grounds:A Study of Intergroup Relations Among Children in Public Settings

Anastasia Loukaitou-sideris

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Loukaitou-sideris, A. (1). Children's Common Grounds:A Study of Intergroup Relations Among Children in Public Settings. Journal of the American Planning Association, 69(2), 130–143.

This article discusses successful common grounds for children public settings that enable the harmonious intermingling of children of different backgrounds, races, and ethnicities and that encourage their social interchange, play, educational development, and collaboration. Our study focused on three types of public space that tend to bring these children together: the public school, the park, and the neighborhood community center. The research employed a variety of methods to study the interaction of children 9 to 12 years of age. Field work took place at four sites in West Los Angeles, Santa Monica, and the San Fernando Valley that enjoy a high level of intermixing and have a reputation for promoting diversity. Subjects in the research included children, teachers, and administrators. The article highlights the findings of the field work and concludes with a comparative analysis of the different settings and a discussion of the environmental and programmatic attributes that contribute to their success.

Main finding
The research finds no significant differences in the ways that children (9 to 12 years age group) of varying racial and cultural backgrounds appreciated public spaces. The article notes that the children shared similar values and preferences for safety and cleanliness in public spaces and expressed appreciation for three types of elements in public spaces - nature-like, athletic, and commercial. Additionally the research finds that the children experienced different types of cross-cultural relations - co-occupation, interaction, collaboration, and sustained relationships - along a continuum of varied intimacy and intensity. The author notes that duration of children’s interaction, existence of special spaces that children could call their own, natural and designed elements and features that bring children together around commonly liked activities are key ingredients of success for creating 'Common Grounds'.

Description of method used in the article
This research examined four different sites in metropolitan Los Angeles: a public school, a community center, and two public parks (one offering passive recreation opportunities and one hosting active recreation facilities). The following methods were employed depending on the setting: (1) structured field observation - preliminary observations established where children tended to concentrate in each park followed by systematic observation sessions of the three most popular settings of each park: playground, lakefront area, and playing fields; (2) surveys of children - a proportional stratified random sample of 60 children 9 to 12 years old was surveyed to identify the children’s likes, dislikes, preferences, needs, and values regarding public spaces and social interaction; (3) photo-journals and focus groups- participating student developed a personal photo-journal and discussed their completed journals in semi-structured focus group interviews; and (4) in-depth interviews - four adults (two teachers and two administrators) were interviewed to gather information on the specific programs and attributes that facilitate interaction among children.

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