Free spaces for youth

In an urban world widely governed by rules and prohibitions, the wild structures of abandoned industrial land do not only give children the feel­ing of freedom and adventure. Urban-industrial woodlands like the Rheinelbe area also attract adolescents. The category of “adolescents’ ac­tivities” in Table 1 summarises activities that teenagers typically pursue in unsupervised spaces. The diverse structures within the woodlands provide places where adolescents can act without being observed by adults. These adolescent activities constituted some of the most frequent activities at the Rheinelbe area during the observation period in 1997 (Table 1). The re­sults obtained from the other analysed areas were similar.

One typical activity of adolescents was the establishment and use of a self-made inline-skating or skateboard run. Located in a clearing sur­rounded by trees and an earthen bank, it was hardly visible from outside (Fig. 2). This use is not a forbidden one, but at other places the young peo­ple would not have been allowed to put up the run without official permis­sion. In addition to the tree houses and huts which appear frequently this is a good example of “self-determined use” or “appropriation activities” as definded by Nohl (1981). The “unfinished” appearance of such an open space stimulates creative activities. One of the remarkable features of the urban woodlands of the Ruhr is that the co-existence of use and nature is allowed.


Fig. 2. Self-built skate run established by adolescents at the Rheinelbe area (sum­mer 1997, photo from photo campaign)

However, a negative aspect must be mentioned. As these activities of young people become excessive, significant vandalism and undesirable “extreme” uses are to be observed as well. In the urban woodlands that be­long to the “Industriewald Ruhrgebiet”, forestry officers control such ac­tivities simply by being present (see Dettmar 2005).

In summary, the following thesis regarding young people can be formed: Industrial fallow land and urban woodlands are important inner – urban rule-free spaces for youth. The nature that has developed on these areas is, however, of little direct relevance to them.