Design, Geography and Play

I got lured into one of those PBS documentaries this weekend. But it was so awesome, I could not turn away. It was called Where do the Children Play? and explored the lack of free outdoor play in the U.S. It's not new, it's perhaps a few years old from Michigan Public Television.

Turns out suburban kids are alone and inside far more than city kids. The former are in cars driving to soccer practice while city kids walk to school. One effort to encourage kids to walk to schook in a suburb yielded just one child! Memorable line from one parent asked about her child walking to school? "I'm afraid she'll get bored."

The most telling part for me was a sudy in which two groups of kids were given identical materials (boxes, markers, base map on floor, etc.) and asked to build a city. The suburban kids worked alone. One child, one building. That was true for all the buildngs but one: the mall. There were no people, no trees. The city kids worked together and negotiated the look of the buildings. The buildings had doors. The doors were open. The windows had people in them, waving to the street. There was public transportation and people sitting on benches. My favorite part? The hospital had beds and on the beds were people.

The documentary provided awesome insight into how our infrastructure impacts our kids and their perceptions of the world and their interactions with one another. It made me think a lot about my tightly packed city and how we must negotiate with one another to make things work. The latest round of conversations on "speak out" (the anything goes phone page printed each week in the paper) was about saving shoveled out parking spaces with chairs. It's not legal, but it's done and we have to work it out as a neighborhood.

Published Wednesday, March 2nd, 2011

Written by Adena Schutzberg

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