________________ CM . . . . Volume XVI Number 36. . . .May 21, 2010


Watch This Space: Designing, Defending and Sharing Public Spaces.

Hadley Dyer. Illustrated by Marc Ngui.
Toronto, ON: Kids Can Press, 2010.
80 pp., hardcover, $19.95.
ISBN 978-1-55453-293-3.

Subject Headings:
Public spaces-Juvenile literature.
Public spaces-Social aspects-Juvenile literature.

Grades 8-12 / Ages 13-17.

Review by Caroline Higgins.

**** /4


It’s a common refrain – being a teen ain’t easy. We all have stories from our years in teenagedom of getting kicked out of malls or shushed in libraries; of being followed too closely by store security guards and targeted by secret shoppers; of finding refuge in parks and parking lots from untrusting adult eyes. In the city where I grew up, there are convenience stores that place a restriction of only two teens in the store at a time and by-laws prohibiting skateboarding on public property. It is the imbedded acceptance of these discriminating practices that author Hadley Dyer takes to task in Watch This Space.

    No doubt a useful resource for class units studying urban issues and design, the true value of Watch This Space, however, is providing an entrance for youth into public policy discussions surrounding public space. Supported by the bold illustrations and graphics of Marc Ngui, every page arrests the reader with historical and contemporary developments, case studies, and projects from cities around the world (though admittedly the majority of contemporary examples are supplied from North America, especially Dyer’s home base of Toronto).

     internal artThe text begins with defining the characteristics of public spaces, then touches on topics ranging from virtual spaces, Ephebiphobia (fear of youth), homelessness, and surveillance; and concludes with a challenge to young readers to “steal” existing strategies for defending everyone’s right to public space:

Remember, public space is yours. You have every right to get pissed off about sold space, ugly space, unused space and wasted space. But ownership comes with responsibility, and that means doing something when you see a problem.

     It is Dyer’s “fresh” language and attention to policies impacting the lives of teens that reveals the intended audience as older teenagers, though the majority of content is suitable for younger readers. And weighing in at 80 pages, Watch This Space doesn’t overwhelm the reader with facts and information. In fact, its short length and heavy use of graphics works to the advantage to anyone attempting to promote this book to today’s teenagers.

    One thing I especially appreciate about this book is it provides references to other resources. A reader’s interest in the rise of North American suburbs in piqued. Dyer refers readers to Jane Jocobs’s seminal work, Death and Life of Great American Cities. Another clever feature is an activity calling for readers to develop a design for a city green space using a wish list from the community.

    It might sound disingenuous to say I wish Watch This Space had been published when I was still a teen. But as a civically-minded youth with a flair for social justice, I didn’t know what to do with this impulse except checkout books I didn’t quite understand on the lives of iconic political activists. My friends and I struggled to organize ourselves effectively to address the injustices we saw in our world. Dyer arms her young readers with good information, practical solutions and the responsibility to act now. The challenge to educators and librarians is getting Watch This Space into the hands of every engaged, civically-minded youth.

Highly Recommended.

Caroline Higgins is a Community Outreach Librarian for Calgary Public Library’s Saddletowne branch opening in 2011.

To comment on this title or this review, send mail to cm@umanitoba.ca.

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