Recognizing Urban Public Space as a Co-Educator: Children’s Socialization in Ghent

De Visscher, S., & Bouverne-De Bie, M.

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De Visscher, S., & Bouverne-De Bie, M. (2008). Recognizing Urban Public Space as a Co-Educator: Children’s Socialization in Ghent. International Journal of Urban & Regional Research, 32(3), 604–616.

This article discusses how urban public space impacts upon children's socialization. There are two points of view on the relationship between children and the urban neighbourhood, whether one considers the position of children in urban public space or the position of this environment in children's socialization. One can define the relationship in terms of the need to protect children against the perils of the city; this results in a spatial segregation of children into separate (play) spaces. Alternatively, one can argue that children should be able to move independently and safely through urban public space in order to make full use of the socializing opportunities offered by the city; this results in criteria for a child-friendly city. Leaving aside abstract images of the ideal neighbourhood for children, urban public space should also be considered as a co-educator. Theories of urban public space as a co-educator require empirical information about the way in which this space impacts upon existing processes of socialization and the citizenship of children. Three cases from the city of Ghent are presented to illustrate this discussion.

Main finding
Using a relational approach to citizenship and children; this research supported notions of public as a co-educator such that its capacity for socializing children is not reduced to specific implements or designs, but rather asks, “what values, ideas and practices are reflected by the construction of urban space” and how might these impact the socialization of children and their experience? Issues of protection and participation and are found to be complementary and not opposing. Three main findings are evident from the neighborhoods studied. First, different socializing impacts exists such as: 1) ‘institutionalized individualization’ that relies little on public space, 2) a reliance on public space limited to group membership, and 3) use of public space with some fear and adherence to personal networks. Secondly, a child’s neighborhood can reinforce social and cultural distinctions that play out in and around public space. Lastly, children tend to accept boundaries imposed on them.

Description of method used in the article
The authors used photographs, taken by children aged 10-12 years, of the children’s own experience in public spaces. Interviews were conducted with the children, using photo-elicitation techniques, to inquire about their presence in public spaces and any limitations they experienced. Similarly, adults who had grown up and were still living in the neighborhood were interviewed. Adults answered questions regarding their experiences with public space, as a child, and its limitations as well as how the neighborhood had changed since. Relevant historical and demographic data, about the three neighborhoods, were also collected.

Of practical use

Organising categories

Play/Passive Recreation
Interviews Photo / Video / Sensor
Physical types
Geographic locations