Key to Livable Cities? Unsupervised Kids

walking to school, child safety

Children headed to school, without an adult, the way it should be in great cities.

If you’re not following Will Doig’s ongoing series over on Salon about cities, you’re missing out. He’s chronicling the forward-thinking, necessary, fun and sometimes drastic ideas city leaders around the world are implementing in the places they want to rebuild and make thrive. Doig asks what the cities of our dreams look like, how they are laid out, how they behave, what they have to offer — and where, oh where, folks have really messed up (Dallas, looking at you).

His most recent piece is based on an idea Strollerderby and parents in general have debated for longer than the last half decade. Namely, the freedom of children.

Doig’s conclusion? We won’t have the livable, walkable, workable cities of our dreams unless the sidewalks, parks, trains and buses and streets are filled with children — children who are not accompanied by an adult.

I couldn’t agree more.

Doig’s piece centers on his interview with an activist, well-known in this space: Lenore Skenazy, the New York City mother who several years ago let her then 9-year-old son make his way home — alone — on the subway.

Skenazy says free-roaming children are a good demonstration of a city that has the kind of pedestrian infrastructure that so many urban dwellers are asking for. And with crime at a 40-year low, why NOT let kids walk out the front door and come home by dinnertime?

It’s a real crisis in cities, though, where children are often banned from going out without an adult. I used to live in a condo-complex where children couldn’t be in the gated courtyard without an adult at their side. Some parks, as one grandmother in the comments of the Salon piece correctly bemoans, don’t allow adults to go sit in a park without being accompanied by a child, lest she be a pervert.

Doig describes how it works for kids in Japan, who head out to Kindergarten in the streets of Tokyo without what Americans would consider adult supervision. But when asked, Japanese subjects respond that, indeed, there are adults the shopkeepers, grannies sweeping sidewalks, commuters headed to work, daily shoppers.

As my children get older, I see this loss of freedom more and more. I was far more out on the suburban free-range than my own sorta city kids are. One reason is that we don’t know our neighbors very well. But the other is the attitude of other parents, adults, law enforcement, etc. When are they allowed to go out on their own? I feel like there is some legal code establishing that age when, actually, it should be my decision.

What do you think? How free-range are your kids? Do you (do they?) long for more freedom to come and go and be independent?

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