What kinds of spaces are available to adolescents in Indianapolis? I have been asking myself this question since my newswire report. Before the pandemic, my answers would have been the mall, the movie theater, or a friend’s house. At a glance this seems like a variety of spaces, yet after reflecting on the experiences of my siblings and I as adolescents I no longer agree. If not for the pandemic and the closures of these spaces, the lack of consideration for adolescents in city spaces may not have been as noticeable. The changes implemented to help decrease the spread of COVID-19 like closing schools, blocking off basketball courts, and shutting down malls or community centers have drastically impacted adolescents. While there are many advantages and disadvantages to the implementations, will they remain after the pandemic is over?
The largest change for adolescents throughout the pandemic is the closure of schools. Since March of 2020, many teenagers went without education for a number of weeks and only began online schooling towards the end of the school year. This halt in their education and attendance of school has created a huge impact on not only their learning but their social skills as well. Some changes within the education system are using online programs like google meet or limiting the number of students in the class on specific days. These changes are problematic because many adolescents do not focus on online schooling and get distracted easily by social media, video games, or even sleep. Distractions like these force parents to stay home and work or hire someone to monitor students throughout the day. This is not sustainable especially for those families that cannot afford to have extra help or stay home. Online alternatives are also expensive for the Indianapolis public school system because every student has to have access to internet and a computer. This disproportionately impacts lower income neighborhoods and families as well. According to Eric Hoover, a senior writer for the Chronicle, “the pandemic has hit low-income students, especially those from urban high schools, the hardest,” which is a result of the expenses stated above. School is one of the most important tasks an adolescent has and COVID-19 has reinvented the term education.
Education is not the only change that has occurred in Indianapolis regarding adolescents. Indy Parks throughout the area closed their gates to many people, which reduces the incentive to socially distance at gatherings, go outside, and interact with others. An example of these closures can be found at the Colt Park located on the canal. During the peak of the pandemic, the park was closed and there was a large siren that pronounced “due to COVID-19 social distancing and masks are required at all times”. Restrictions similar to this limit the level of activity adolescents can have especially since after school programs were canceled. Another important example is that teenagers could not use basketball courts or other areas because they had wooden boards screwed over them to reduce large gatherings and promote social distancing. Other restrictions include the transformation from in person summer programs to meet remotely. While this is better than having no activity at all it is still not ideal when it comes to social development, human interaction, and maintaining a strong immune system. Zeynep Tufekci, associate professor at the University of North Carolina explains this by writing, “If a group of 10 young people goes to a park… kept six feet away from every other group, the police shooing them away may end up being pandemic theater that might increase the risk of transmission among the group members if they instead spend that time socializing anyway in a cramped, poorly ventilated apartment”. This is because being outside increases mental and physical health that is necessary to fight off COVID-19.
The alternatives to in person schooling and activities are not all bad and I think they will continue when life is back to normal. Some advantages to these modifications are access to education during sick or snow days, participating in activities if being in person is not an option at a specific time, and it allows adolescents to use technology responsibly. It is also beneficial for school systems by creating “flexibility in our schedule, enhance our course offerings, and to provide remediation or acceleration where needed” (Strauss). Another important advantage created by COVID-19 is the free lunch program for individuals under 18 years old. This allows adolescents who are home alone to receive lunches without the financial burden of paying for it.
While all of these changes have advantages and disadvantages associated with them, they ultimately raise a red flag regarding city spaces for adolescents. This red flag being that there are not enough spaces for older children to be able to move and interact freely. Older children often feel restricted to certain places or unwelcome at others and this was only exacerbated by the pandemic. As a solution to this issue, city planners need to be more mindful of adolescents while planning kid friendly spaces. To do this, the input of teenagers needs to be considered and represented in planning to make them feel welcome and like they have voice in society. Writer, Amy Crawford writes, “advocating for young people to have input on park design and other city planning projects…supports local efforts to build places where children are safe and secure”. If measures similar to this take place, hopefully in the near future the answer to what kinds of spaces are available to adolescents in Indianapolis will be more inclusive, socially aware, and mature.
Crawford, Amy. With Schools Shut, Teens Seek a Space of Their Own. 30 Nov. 2020, www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2020-11-30/with-schools-shut-teens-seek-a-space-of-their-own?srnd=citylab-design.
Hoover, Eric. “The Real Covid-19 Enrollment Crisis: Fewer Low-Income Students Went Straight to College.” Chronicle.com, www.chronicle.com/article/the-real-covid-19-enrollment-crisis-fewer-low-income-students-went-straight-to-college?bc_nonce=w4nw69c0fystaclnz45cb&cid=reg_wall_signup.
Strauss, Valerie. “Online Learning: The Necessity and Promise.” The Washington Post, WP Company, 13 May 2011, www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/answer-sheet/post/online-learning-the-necessity-and-promise/2011/05/12/AFypkY2G_blog.html.
Tufekci, Zeynep. “Keep the Parks Open.” The Atlantic, Atlantic Media Company, 8 Apr. 2020, www.theatlantic.com/health/archive/2020/04/closing-parks-ineffective-pandemic-theater/609580/.