The thing to do on prom night 1998 was to take the rented limo up to the lookout on Mount-Royal after a soirée of underage bar-hopping to see the sun rise. We didn’t make it. Dizzy on newly-discovered drinks, my date and I watched the sun come up from the rooftop of a grocery store around the corner from home.
And we spent a lot of time atop that grocery throughout our highschool years. It was great vantage point and a hideaway too: nobody ever looked up.
Our first date had been in a tree in the church yard across the street from my parents’ house. Later, we climbed scaffolding at construction sites and kissed high above the streets. We also snuck over to the golf course in January and made out in our snowsuits.
With our gang of high school friends, we rolled down the grassy slopes of Murray Hill park and got kicked out after dark. We got kicked out of Westmount Park during a midnight game of tag on the jungle gym. We got kicked out of Strathern Park too, herded back onto the sidewalk by bored security officers.
In those days we were flat broke, claustrophobic under our parents’ roofs and craved physical sensation above all else. Too old for the playground and too cautious to fool around with drugs and sex, we went swimming in wading pools, in the fountains on Prince Arthur street, in the dragon-boat pit on Ile Ste-Hélène, and splashed through the bright lights and water jets in front of the Casino.
We were good kids for the most part – we didn’t graffiti or drink much or smoke cigarettes, but we built a fire on Mount Royal to roast pizza pockets (a culinary disaster). We dirt-biked through train yards in Lachine and dared each other to walk across a train bridge. I was in love with River Phoenix in Stand by Me.
A couple years ago, I noticed that the fire escape we used to take to the roof had been fenced in and padlocked. But by then we didn’t care anymore – we were old enough to get into bars.
When I think about public space, I often remember what it was like when I was sixteen and had no place of my own, no money, and an irrepressible urge to do something unexpected. How I wanted to move in ways that had not been programmed by my parents or another authority, and was always searching for something to climb, for a hole in the fence, for an undiscovered place, a final frontier to push against.
If my experience was any indication, teenagers rely on public space more than almost any other demographic. But, although there’s lots of talk about attracting families to the city, I rarely hear mention of teenagers in urban planning. Beyond an occasional basket ball court or hockey rink, how do we consider their needs and preferences? (If anybody knows of any intiatives, please comment!)
The closest I could find to a teen consultation was a survey done by Montreal’s Youth Council in 2007 that looked at young people’s “sense of belonging”(PDF). They concluded that Montrealers aged 12-17 were primarily interested in having better sports facilities, increased security (more police surveillance and prevention of violence, drugs, gangs, prostitution) and a cleaner environment.
So, on second thoughts, perhaps I was a particularly delinquent kid after all…
Photo: street lamp on St-Dominique and rue Charlotte (Place de la paix).