Sharing Public Space: Youth Experience and Socialization in Marseille’s Borely Park

Olivier L’Aoustet & Jean Griffet

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L’Aoustet, O. & Griffet, J. (1). Sharing Public Space. Space and Culture, 7(2), 173–187.

experience , leisure , play , socialization , urban park

This article presents a field study conducted in a public park in a major city of southern France. Using a comprehensive approach and an ethnographic method, the goal is to gain insight into the everyday activities that govern the use of public space. By granting meaning to actions considered useless and insignificant, the purpose of this article is to understand how the sharing of public space, in particular the overcrowding observed in Borely Park, participates in youth socialization. People’s experiences and interactions in a public park create ties between them. The sharing of places, and the impressions generated as a result, help bring peers closer together while also bridging the generation gap. Through its description of how the youth use this metropolitan park, this study highlights the importance of the sense dimension in the building of societies. Finally, this work argues that youth are continually learning to live together without really realizing it.

Main finding
Empirical data gained through the field studies produced several findings regarding the social functions of the park and meaning given to activities carried out by youth in the park. These findings included the park as a space for youth to grow independent of their families who had traditionally taken them to the park. The cultural of the sea, symbolism of the sun, and abundance of natural elements all work to attract generations of park users. Interestingly, relationships within the park range from anonymous, to deeply rooted ones engaging both groups of friends and exchanges among strangers. This is especially notable in recreation play like soccer characterized by ‘being in the moment’ whereby social differences are temporarily forgotten in the spirit of the universal moment. Lastly, the park was found to serve as an intermediary space between adult confrontation, on one end, and space for youth to be among peers.

Description of method used in the article
The authors used a “haphazard” form of ethnography by which there were no preconceptions of the park with data was collected in an intuitive manner. The goal was to identify the characteristics of observed collective activities. The tools used included participant observations, field notes, and tape-recorded conversations with various park users - mainly youth.

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Organising categories

Participant Observation
Physical types
Geographic locations