Safety and danger in downtown Vancouver: Understandings of place among young people entrenched in an urban drug scene

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We undertook this qualitative study to examine young people's understandings of the physical and social landscape of the downtown drug scene in Vancouver, Canada. In-depth interviews were conducted with 38 young people ranging from 16 to 26 years of age. Using the concept of symbolic violence, we describe how one downtown neighborhood in particular powerfully symbolizes ‘risk’ among local youth, and how the idea of this neighborhood (and what happens when young people go there) informs experiences of marginalization in society's hierarchies. We also discuss the complex role played by social networks in transcending the geographical and conceptual boundaries between distinct downtown drug-using neighborhoods. Finally, we emphasize that young people's spatial tactics within this downtown landscape – the everyday movements they employ in order to maximize their safety – must be understood in the context of everyday violence and profound social suffering.

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