Good Environments Make the Youth Emotionally Healthy

“Social problem-solving design” that changed our everyday life — youth problem-solving design

The social problem-solving design project of the SMG that began since 2011 has undergone a transition from a “policy-centered” design to a “human-centered” design by proving its effects and receiving the attention of residents. Accordingly, the SMG started the design project in 2014 to solve problems faced by the youth, such as school violence, emotional anxiety, digital dependency, and peer relationships.

The first step was the school violence prevention design project which sought points for improvement by analyzing various causes of school violence. The project name was changed to youth problem-solving design in 2018 as its scope has been expanded from school violence to other youth problems that are regarded as social issues. In particular, the necessity of the project emerges from the fact that problematic behaviors of the youth are worsening in terms of the quality and diversifying in terms of the types and targets. There is an urgent need for a solution that considers the developmental stage of the youth and regional characteristics. The youth problem-solving design project of the SMG will be examined by focusing on six representative cases of youth problems.

Starting from observation and understanding —youth problem-solving design

Verbal abuse / Encouraging positive language and ensuring secure school commuting environment, “Starlight” (2014)

The first improvement project in 2014 targeted Choongam Middle School in Eunpyeong-gu. This school had an urgent need for the prevention and improvement of verbal abuse, which triggered school violence and caused the mental suffering of victims. The primary task was to provide children who lacked self-confidence and stable support an opportunity to look back at their words and actions. For this purpose, the SMG came up with the “Star Talk Star Service,” a service to encourage the use of positive language with the on-campus broadcasting club. Speakers and electronic signboards were installed on campus and commuting routes. The Star Talk Star recording studio and bulletin boards were made to circulate positive energy. This environment was prepared to help children perceive verbal abuse and improve speaking habits by repeating “speaking-listening-speaking again” activities.


“Star Talk Star Service” of Choongam Middle School in Eunpyeong-gu

The “Starlight Valley” design was applied to dark alleys where school violence occurred with frequent delinquencies to build a bright and positive environment. The darkened alleyway was lightened up by adding a design using phosphorescent pigments. The purpose of the design was to form a bond of emotional sympathy with the youth by delivering positive starlight messages through gobo lights.


“Starlight Valley” at Choongam Middle School in Eunpyeong-gu

Bystanders of school violence / Expansion of peer relationships through plays, “PLAY@Banghak” (2015)

The youth problem-solving design analyzed the causes of school violence in greater detail through subsequent projects. The Banghak Middle School project conducted in 2015 discovered during the preliminary study that most students who are from double-income families wandered around the neighborhood after school. However, due to the shortage of cultural facilities and play facilities within the region, most students sat alone in an empty park or spent time on the Internet or social media after school. Accordingly, the “Dokkaebi Federation” community that was active in the park built a bond of sympathy and intimacy among students by revitalizing play culture. From the fact that the bystander group standing between perpetrators and victims of school violence accounts for the biggest portion of students, the design project tried to guide bystanders to act as defenders instead.

“PLAY@Box” was installed as the base for activities, and “PLAY@Park” was remodeled with park facilities such as play tables and benches. Blind spots on commuting routes nearby the school were improved. Particularly, “PLAY@Wall” was decorated with artworks of a student with developmental disabilities in respect of diversity, and “Play@Bulletin Board” was prepared to introduce regional youth programs. This project showed significant results, decreasing the fear of school violence among students by 26.5% and showing a satisfaction rate of 78.2% among residents.


“PLAY@Banghak” project of Banghak Middle School in Dobong-gu

Wandering youth / Finding and filling gaps on the streets, “In Between” (2016)

Baemyeong Middle School is located in Samjeon-dong, Songpa-gu, a region that had an absolute lack of cultural space for the youth and showed a high frequency of accidents. This region needed a place for students to relieve stress from schooling and relationships, emit positive energy, and exchange with one another. Accordingly, the In Between Project was carried out to shed light on hidden places within the region. Side roads in between buildings were used to provide activity tables, health tracks, and cultural spaces that would improve relationships among regions, generations, and peers. In addition, “finding the hidden picture in blind spots” was applied for students to find places that they feared to reduce the fear and feel attached to such places.


In Between Project of Baemyeong Middle School in Songpa-gu

Fearful relationships between older and younger students / Shedding new light on commuting routes, “Young Light” (2017)

Seoul Younghwa Elementary School, Yeong Deung Po Middle School, and Young Deung Po High School, three schools that are located near one another, shared the same commuting route. Students of younger ages who lacked communication and experience had to fear older students they faced on the way to school every day. Low pride in the region and school caused by the old and shabby image of the town was another issue.

Accordingly, students representing the three schools came together and shared ideas at a design workshop. The “Young Light” project was conducted to improve the passageways of commuting routes nearby the schools based on the ideas presented at the workshop. This project was based on the theory of “imagined contact,” which claims that people’s attitude changes by simulating interactions psychologically. First off, commuting path signage and key bases were prepared based on storytelling on each space to create a sense of belonging and a positive environment. Three-dimensional wall paintings and storytelling artworks were installed as landmarks of the schools and village, allowing students at the three schools to feel proud of their schools and region.


Young Light Project of Seoul Younghwa Elementary School, Yeong Deung Po Middle School, and Young Deung Po High School in Dongjak-gu

The Great Good Place / Complex experience space for children, “I Am Ground” (2017)

The SMG also paid attention to the fact that the ratio of emotional violence is growing in comparison to physical violence at school. Seoul Yongma Elementary School in Gwangjin-gu presented a solution to emotional violence, which involves senses of deprivation and alienation caused by talking behind the back and taking sides. The community space called “I Am Ground” was used as the “Great Good Place”* for students by remodeling an on-campus warehouse. *The Great Good Place : This term, based on the theory by an American sociologist named Ray Oldenburg, refers to a regional community place outside of the home, work, and school where cultural activities occur. This place is used to connect people and create new interactions.

A comforting place for resting and refreshment was made to prevent children of double-income families from wandering around and getting exposed to various accidents after school. In this place, children are able to develop their senses while experiencing diverse activities in the outdoor terrace, such as art activities. Meanwhile, the SMG presented the “Seoul Metropolitan Government Ordinance on Social Problem Solving Design” in January 2018 for the first time among cities at home and abroad. There are many ordinances on social problem-solving design implemented by other local governments, but the SMG was the first city government to enforce an ordinance that embraces design to solve overall social issues such as dementia and aging.



I Am Ground Project of Seoul Yongma Elementary School in Gwangjin-gu

Digital overdependence / Building a resting space using plants, “Maeumpul” (2018–2019)

The subsequent project pays attention to the digital or game dependence trend of the youth. Among various problems, the SMG focused on the fact that the youth have a serious level of smartphone overuse and withdrawal symptoms. The imbalance of senses caused by the overuse of vision had an adverse impact on the focus and emotions of students. The SMG applied the “biophilia” theory that restores the balance of the five senses to solve these problems. This theory claims that the senses of sight, sound, smell, taste and touch can be restored by going through a series of processes related to plant growth, such as touching the soil and observing and managing the plant.

Places providing plant-related knowledge and activities were built to solve the digital overdependence problem. The “Maeumpul” project was carried out extensively by remodeling on-campus classes into resting spaces, including “Forest in Classroom” at Jeonil Middle School in Dongdaemun-gu, “Play Ground” at Dongil Girls’ High School in Geumcheon-gu, and “Plant Lab” at Jeongeui Girls’ High School in Dobong-gu. In particular, Jeongeui Girls’ High School in Dobong-gu helped students express themselves and refine their emotions by growing, experimenting, and recording plants.



Maeumpul Project at Jeonil Middle School in Dongdaemun-gu and Jeongeui Girls’ High School in Dobong-gu

Schools are spaces for students, but they actually lacked the “real” space for students in the past. Various communities and Maeumpul projects proposed by the youth problem-solving design project implemented practical and professional operations through the involvement of expert groups. Solutions applied to community spaces, commuting routes, and plant spaces were turned out to be much more efficient since they accurately reflected the needs by conducting several student workshops and interviews. Among users of Maeumpul spaces, 76.4% showed positive responses to school compared to the past. They answered that Maeumpul provides emotional stability and helps build relationships.


Maeumpul Project at Dongil Girls’ High School in Geumcheon-gu

Youth problem-solving design is also noteworthy in that it pointed out real problems faced by the youth, such as prejudiced youth culture, verbal abuse, emotional violence, and high dependence on smartphones and games. It was a systematic approach to analyze the causal relationship between school violence and the hindrance of emotional development. This is the very reason why we need to pay attention to the progress and outcome of future youth problem-solving design projects.

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