Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Scheduling a Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood

I own a very distinct memory from my childhood where on any given day I could walk out the front door of our house onto our little suburban culdesac and make an almost limitless decision as to which neighboring friend I would play with that day. My choices were as abundant as the houses in my purview. Literally every household around us, even over on the next block, contained a kid to play with within 1 to 2 years of my age. It seemed like all of the other parents were my parent's age as well. It was like some strange phenomenon had happened in which all these twentysomething married couples invaded this quiet pocket and entered into some crazy cultish pact or some university-funded social experiment with the express instruction of knocking off children all at the same time.

While the same seems to hold true for my parents and their parents' generations, sadly this is not the case for the modern kid. My own kids in particular also live on a suburban culdesac in a genuinely suburban neighborhood that is, unfortunately for them, a pretty mixed bag. The surrounding neighbors are mostly retirees and empty-nesters, corporate dynamic duo dynamos and those with the tweens and high-schoolers. As a result, playtime for our kids now demands excruciatingly calculated effort, dayplanning and the kind of precision scheduling that could rival that of CEOs of large companies. Being driven (shuttled) by us parents to playdates, heavily structured sports, Scouts and extra-curricular activities are the contemporary equivalent to my generation's simply walking out the door and transporting ourselves to activities via bicycle.

So what is responsible for this shift? Sprawl and excessive dependence on cars to get us where we're going? The media or other forces making us believe it's not safe to let our kids run off and play on their own? Poor town planning that doesn't allow for newer families of the same ages to congregate together as before? Something else? All of the above? What's your take?

1 comment:

Mike Lanza said...

I run a blog called devoted to helping parents give their children a neighborhood where spontaneous outdoor play happens regularly.

Part of my solution is to make our yards interesting enough for kids to compete with all the other attractions kids that tug on kids these days - lifelike videogames, social networks, web surfing, hundreds of TV channels, dozens of fascinating structured activities, etc.

Here are two articles on what I've done with my front and back yards:

Our Front Yard Family Room
Our Back Yard: Open & Playful in a Land of Fences

Also, here's an article about a similar movement in Portland, OR:

When Communities Take Over Their Own Streets