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REBECCA BAIRD: Dundee kids need somewhere to go – ‘blue-sky thinking’ won’t fix broken bus stops

Dundee councillor Fraser MacPherson has called for an 'imaginative approach' to vandalism; how about giving teenagers a place in their city?

A shocking £480k repair bill for Dundee bus stops was announced this week. Image: DC Thomson.
A shocking £480k repair bill for Dundee bus stops was announced this week. Image: DC Thomson.

If I could ban any phrase from the mouths of councillors in Dundee, it would be: ‘blue-sky thinking’.

We heard it again this week, this time from west end councillor Fraser MacPherson, in response to the news that the local authority is set to cough up a jaw-dropping £48k to repair broken bus shelters in the city over the next six years.

He says we need an ‘imaginative approach’ to the issue of repeat vandalism and destruction of bus stops, and urged bosses to employ ‘blue-sky thinking’.

To read that really wound me up, because we don’t need ‘blue-sky thinking’ at all. We just need to address the problem.

But first we need to address what the problem is not.

Breakable bus stops aren’t the issue

The problem is not the fact that bus shelters are made of glass or polycarbonate. These are perfectly reasonable materials out of which to construct a bus shelter.

Those who suggest metal or brick have never been a woman travelling alone at night; an opaque, sturdy shelter would only attract a different flavour of criminality to bus stops.

And I can’t decide whether centring this discussion on the breakability of a bus stop’s building materials is wilful ignorance on the part of the local authorities, or just plain incompetence.

Because the problem isn’t building things that can be broken; it’s the folk breaking them.

Anti-social behaviour is root of problem

We all know that Dundee city centre and popular bus routes into it have become a hotbed for anti-social behaviour in recent years, with kids and young teenagers the most common culprits.

I don’t think any of us should be surprised. We have a generation of young people who spent two pivotal, formative years locked up in their homes.

Of course they’re rioting now they’re out. It isn’t right, but it’s predictable.

The Kirkton riots were a boiling point of youth antisocial behaviour. Image: Steve Brown/DC Thomson

So I, along with many others, have a lot of sympathy for kids right now. It looks harder than ever to be young.

But somewhere along the line, the collective coddling and making allowances for these rightfully-troubled teens has tipped into treating them as a lost cause.

It’s as if a slew of parents, teacher and local authorities have shrugged their shoulders and said: ‘What can we do? These ones are defective.’

But to me, the answer seems simple. Just give these kids places to go.

No space for teens in their city

Think about it – teenagers have always been a nomad tribe with no home. Nowhere is inviting them in; no one wants a group of guffawing, gangly, noisy youths hanging around annoying folk.

But the fact is they are annoying. We were all annoying teenagers once, with the restless energy of children and the freedom of adults. It’s a recipe for chaos.

And where do they put it?

Vandals targeted a bus stop on Panmure Street last year. Image: Amie Flett/DC Thomson.

They can’t go to the pub, and be rowdy among folk their own age as adults can. They get glared out of playparks made for wee ones.

And let’s be honest organised, sanitised, safe ‘youth spaces’ are simply not going to attract the kids we’re worrying about.

So without somewhere specific and interesting to be, they find themselves in between places. When you’re skint and there’s six of you, what can you do except ‘hang about’ – in city square or the Overgate or even on the bus, where it’s free to sit?

A burnt bus shelter near Morrisons Dundee. Image: Gareth Jennings/DC Thomson.

The truth is, if we want to stop spending money on vandalised bus stops, it’s not enough to make them vandal-proof, or even to harshly punish those we can catch.

We need to stop creating wee toe rags who want to break stuff because they’ve nothing better to do.

Utilise city centre better for young citizens

So how does Dundee City Council do that? Well for a start, it could get the chronically crisis-hit Olympia back open. Again.

It could stop standing in the way of businesses like Passion Park, the indoor skate park that’s been trying to get its doors open for months.

And they could invest in some affordable night-time economy which doesn’t revolve around alcohol licences, so that come 7pm on a Friday night, teenagers could actually go somewhere, instead of riding their free buses to nowhere.

Lewis Allan and Scott Young are trying to get the Passion Park doors open. Image: Kim Cessford /DC Thomson.

Because offering free bus travel for under-22s is one thing, but that only works if people have a destination. And we have a whole generation with nowhere in particular to go; on a night, or in life.

But Dundee could change that. We have so many buildings sitting empty. Real, brick-and-mortar places that could get teenagers ‘off the streets’ if only there was something worthwhile inside them.

Maybe that sounds like the very ‘blue-sky thinking’ I started out putting down.

But I’m a writer, not a councillor.

And councillors should be looking straight ahead at the issues and solutions directly in front of them, instead of waiting for answers to fall out of their beloved blue sky.