Use, not Occupation – Swiss Youth in Public Spaces

A new study by the Jacobs Foundation reveals that young people in Switzerland are self‐critical and self‐confident.

Zurich, October 23, 2012:
The main reason why Swiss youth use public spaces, aside from such practical advantages as the fact that they are easy to reach (89 percent) and do not involve substantial costs (93 percent), is that these spaces are freely accessible (91 percent). Only a minority consider public spaces an appropriate place for parties (23 percent) or for using alcohol or drugs (42 percent and 17 percent, respectively). Only one‐third of young people have personally experienced conflicts in public spaces. These are some of the key findings of the first Juvenir study, the Jacobs Foundation’s innovative and representative survey of Swiss youth.

“Accepting responsibility, participation and following the rules – these principles reflect the liberal nature of Swiss society. Swiss youth learn these principles as they make use of public spaces,” explains Dr. Joh. Christian Jacobs, Chairman of the Board of Trustees of the Jacobs Foundation. “For young people in Switzerland, the public domain is a place of learning, whatever conflicts there may be about the use of such spaces. It is a place where they can gain experience that is essential for their development and their active role in Swiss society. Ultimately, such experiences promote social integration and help young people acquire the skills they need to participate in our democracy.”

Dictated freedom is no freedom

Swiss youth want to decide for themselves where they will congregate, rather than having adults make that decision for them (80 percent). Public spaces allow them to explore and negotiate boundaries; and, indeed, they want clear boundaries. For them, public spaces are not a place where laws do not apply – on the contrary: 77 percent of young people expressly welcome the presence of security personnel. And when conflicts occur in public spaces, Swiss youth are certainly willing to criticize themselves: 90 percent believe that they share responsibility for such conflicts.

Free use – same rules for everyone

Young people in Switzerland are not seeking exclusive use of public spaces. For them, it is the very fact that these spaces are open to the general public that makes them special (91 percent). Use of public areas does not constitute occupation, nor is it a political statement. Rather, young people appear to be increasingly appropriating public spaces without any sort of rebellion. Moreover, they are showing responsibility: Over 90 percent feel that it is their duty to comply with rules about trash and about noise after 10:00 p.m. (72 percent). In return, they expect nearby residents to show a minimum degree of tolerance (87 percent).

The Jacobs Foundation’s Juvenir studies

Juvenir is a new, representative series of studies by the Jacobs Foundation that address current topics affecting young people in Switzerland. What sets these studies apart:

Rather than talking about young people, Juvenir talks with them – and they are the ones who identify the topics that are of importance. In terms of methodology, the study is based on the use of social media. This innovative approach includes the following elements:

  • In‐depth definition of topics: Online discussions with young people, using the chat function, to identify and prioritize relevant issues
  • A broad‐based view: Representative surveys of young people regarding the significance of the respective topics and issues
  • Reflection and in‐depth study: Discussion of the study’s results by young people and refinement of its topics through a “Juvenir Dialogue” with adults as well as through online discussions by and with young people

The first Juvenir study, entitled “Our Place – Young People in Public Spaces,” is available in its entirety as well as in summary form through the Jacobs Foundation. The results of the study will be presented to the public at 6:30 p.m. on October 23, 2012, at the old Sihlpapierfabrik building in Zurich. For more information, please visit

Information about the Jacobs Foundation

The Jacobs Foundation is active worldwide in promoting child and youth development. It was founded in Zurich by entrepreneur Klaus J. Jacobs in 1989. The Jacobs Foundation allocates a budget of approximately 35 million Swiss francs per year to fund research projects, intervention programs and scientific institutions. It is committed to scientific excellence and evidence‐based research. With its investment of 200 million euros to support Jacobs University Bremen (2006), the Jacobs Foundation has set new standards for private funding.