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UC researcher calling on teenagers to have their say in schoolyard designs

Danielle Meddemmen

17 March 2021: Spending time outdoors has been shown to have a range of positive impacts on physical and mental health, and a University of Canberra researcher is looking to address the lack of public outdoor spaces suitable for adolescents.

A landscape architect and PhD candidate at the University’s Health Research Institute, Gweneth Leigh, has spent her career interested in how the built environment impacts behaviours and feelings.

She is now looking to bridge the available information gap about what adolescents want, and need, in green spaces.

“From a public space standpoint, we often design adolescents out of those spaces because we don’t know what’s suitable,” she said. “For a time, we used skateparks as a one-size-fits-all approach.”

“A lot of mental health issues escalate between the ages of 12 and 25, and we are finding there is a need for this group to have spaces where they can have some quiet time, gather their thoughts or destress.”

Ms Leigh is calling on adolescents to have their say through her ‘The Schoolyard I’d Like’ ideas competition to expand that research and inform future green space designs – particularly in schools. Competition entrants stand to win a $200 Westfield gift card.

“This competition looks to find out what young people really want in their outdoor environments, and the schoolyard is a tool at our fingertips that I think is underutilised,” she said.

“For students to really reap the wellbeing benefits of time outside, schoolyards should be designed in ways that connect with their needs.

“As we are densifying our cities, schoolyards become this central point for both school and community use.”

The competition will run until 1 April, inviting Canberra students between Years 7 to 12, to re-think an area at their school on an A3 poster with a written reflection.

Ideas and submissions will then be used to inform stakeholders and experts to better target future outdoor space designs.

Health Research Institute Director, Professor Rachel Davey, said that Ms Leigh’s research was both topical and valuable. and the beneficial research it would create for adolescents.

“Issues of anxiety and stress are rising at alarming rates among our youth,” she said. “Schoolyards have the potential to be a valuable tool for improving the physical and mental health of school children.”

Winners will be announced in early May 2021.More information is available at  www.theschoolyard.com.au.