This paper is drawn from a larger research project exploring young people, leisure activities and alcohol consumption. The study draws on the concept of affordances from environmental psychology as a way of framing the debate of what young people need in neighbourhood parks. Parks are important to this age group since they provide a setting for physical activity, relaxation and social interaction. However, human development at this life stage also includes indulging in experimental and/or deviant behaviour. In the eyes of the young people involved, however, their behaviour is mostly benign, even if/when it causes conflict with other users. Furthermore, they often take particular measures to avoid other age groups (defined in environmental psychology as ‘retreat’) and while often voluntary, it may also be enforced. The research suggests that while the park is the most important place for this age group to socialise outside the home, young people themselves often feel poorly provided for and unwelcome. The fact that they adopt what they find in parks to suit their needs is motivated by interconnecting aspirations, perceptions and needs. Developing a more sophisticated understanding of these issues may lead to more appropriate and satisfactory design for all users.