Date of Award

Spring 5-2012

Degree Type


Degree Name


Degree Program

Urban Studies


Planning and Urban Studies

Major Professor

Jeffrey Ehrenreich

Second Advisor

David Gladstone

Third Advisor

John Renne

Fourth Advisor

Martha Ward

Fifth Advisor

Bret Peters


The extant literature on the play behavior of youth normalizes adolescent behavior in public space as transgressional, resistant, and in need of social control. The dissertation counters this trend by looking to see if physical qualities, peer effects, and neighborhood context of settings play a deeper role in youth behavior. The study documented urban context, peer effects, physical features, and play behavior across 21 urban settings in New Orleans. Unobtrusive observations employed a highly innovative technique based on YouTube videos and analyzed using hierarchical linear modeling. Coded observations of risk-taking and prosocial behavior demonstrated some stability in behavior amongst adolescents—“youth” ages 12-19—within each site, suggesting that site-specific factors can constrain youth behavior. Yet, more interesting, teens appropriated sites. Specifically, the study found that (a) adolescents consistently adapt play behavior due to settings and (b) that adolescents adapt sites to support play behavior. The latter finding is novel and diverges from normative theory on adolescent behavior by suggesting that teens exercise interdependence when engaging in urban environments away from home and school. Interdependence is a term derived from economics that means mutual dependence upon others for some needs. That adolescents display increased risk-taking behavior in environments with low appropriation and increased prosocial behavior in environments with high appropriation advocates for cities to support adolescent appropriation of urban space.


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