Picture this

A look at some research with teenage girls and photos which shows how important safety is for park access

February 3, 2023
April 17, 2024
Susannah Walker
Design professionals
Other supporters
Share this post

I could start by explaining what photo elicitation is, but perhaps a quote might be better.

‘I feel like there should be like different sections, so one for males and one for girls. Coz…if a girl goes there, like a group of girls, like they (boys)’ll just kick you out.’

She’s talking about this picture, of our old friend the MUGA, the multi-use games area or fenced pitch.

Fenced pitch with line markings and grass behind

This comes from a second part to the University of Leeds research about how women and girls feel about safety in parks. The team also showed focus groups of teenage girls photographs and other images of park equipment and asked them what they thought. Aka photo elicitation if you are a researcher.

Swings set on a hexagonal frame so that they face each other

The result is a report on what teenage girls like and dislike about park play spaces, with a focus on safety.

Red hammocks with people relaxing on them.

Some of what they found is pretty much what you might expect – fenced MUGAs feel threatening for girls but they love swings and hammocks.

‘I love swings and it’s great that there is one for disabled people too, to feel included.’

Even so, it’s great to have this written down in a document that we – and other people, like you – can now show to councils and any other organisation which might be interested.

Some of the pictures they were shown may be familiar to long-time readers of this blog.

A drawing of a semi circular seating structure with a table, being used by girls

Although they had reservations about this – the high back might make them feel trapped. Duly noted, and we will refine our suggestions accordingly. However they did like the exercise bikes arranged socially.

‘You can exercise whilst talking to your friends; the best thing ever!’
Drawing of exercise bikes arranged like the spokes of the wheel

But the research also produced some fascinating surprises, like the responses to this picture.

A fenced pitch with markings and a white van behind the fence

It wasn’t the MUGA which caught the girls’ attention, but the white van parked behind. They explained that they didn’t like the van or felt it was ‘just weird how it’s just parked there’.

The report says that this points to a fear of predatory men, which is true, but for me it’s more revealing than that. It demonstrates just how much safety work teenage girls do in public spaces, all the time. They are so hardwired to scan for trouble and potential danger that they are even doing it when they are in a room, just looking at pictures of public spaces. And that – for a report which comes out of work on safety – is perhaps the most important photo elicitation of all.

You can find out more about this research project, led by Dr Anna Barker and Professor George Holmes at University of Leeds with funding from West Yorkshire Combined Authority, on their project webpage.

Sign up to our newsletter

Get news, events and more, direct to your inbox.

Thank you! Your submission has been received!
Oops! Something went wrong while submitting the form.
Your subscription could not be saved. Please try again.
Your subscription has been successful.
Cookie Consent

By clicking “Accept”, you agree to the storing of cookies on your device to analyse site usage. View our Privacy Policy for more information.