Imagine children leading unfamiliar adults on tours of Brisbane's Fortitude Valley, widely known as an adult's playground. Unthinkable perhaps? Questionable? Downright dangerous! Brisbane-based community cultural development organization, Contact challenged widely held beliefs that children need protection, Fortitude Valley as dangerous and that children should never walk with a stranger through a collaborative arts project with a group of twelve children aged 8 to 12 years. The project explored young people's agency and sense of civic-mindedness, as well as notions of safety as these pertain to urban space and the role that young people might play in negotiating adult constructed urban public spaces. The children charted their own urban geographies via the capturing of visual data such as drawings and photographs, and the generation of narratives of experiences formulated when 'touring' the urban space. After eight weeks of weekly arts-based workshops on cultivating the children's urban geographies of Brisbane's Valley, a performative tour of the Valley for adults was developed from the perspective of young people.
Critical ethnographic research was conducted of this project to investigate children's inclusion in public spaces, and to explore public spaces as sites of public pedagogy for children's citizenship. Drawing from fields of children's geographies (e.g., Woolley, 2006, Holloway & Valentine, 2000), children's citizenship (e.g., Lister, 2007, 2008; Phillips, 2010, 2011a, 2011b) and public pedagogy (e.g., Giroux, 2004, Hickey, 2010, Hickey, 2012) emergent key themes noted thus far in the project (as the project plans to continue as an event in other urban spaces nationally and internationally) included children's abundant excitement for engagement in the project; their agency and competency in community engagement and awareness of ethical dilemmas in their interactions with pedestrians. Children's key interests in the urban spaces of the Valley largely centred around the unusual, the hidden, the miniscule and forbidden. Though the children negotiated the public spaces with confidence, many pedestrians looked askance at the children as they went about their navigations of the Valley. Such reactions suggested that the children's autonomy was perceived as an out-of-the-ordinary experience, as children are more typically associated with the private spaces of home and school (Rasmussen, 2004; Roche, 1999). Findings from this study highlight the great potential for civic learning by both adults and children through the public pedagogy of the provocation of this arts project for social change.