The dearth of children in public spaces is too often decried purely in terms of The! Obesity! Crisis!!1! But there are much better reasons to encourage children back into the public world, and they’re reasons not readily addressed by a cycle-driven videogame or standing-desks in classrooms.
Seen And Heard: Reclaiming the public realm with children and young people is a new report out of Demos UK, which bills itself “The think tank for everyday democracy”. From the blurb:
Until now, action to improve the lives of children and young people has tended to focus on the institutional spheres of home and school. Yet quality of life also depends on the access to and quality of shared resources such as streets, parks, town centres and playgrounds. And here, in the everyday spaces of our towns and cities, we increasingly exclude and marginalise the young. In the pursuit of sustainable communities and urban renaissance, children and young people are too often left out of the script.
Children and young people have limited independence – both financially and spatially –and depend on shared spaces more than others. With trends in Britain pointing towards less outdoor play, increased parental anxiety and less tolerance for children and young people, the impact of an unwelcoming public realm on their health and well-being is becoming increasingly clear.
Seen and Heard: Reclaiming the public realm with children and young people draws on six case studies to explore the everyday experiences of children in public. It argues that we need a paradigm shift in the way we think about the built environment- one which addresses the deepening segregation between generations. The needs of the young are not opposed to those of other users of public spaces, but closely aligned. With a range of recommendations designed to empower frontline professionals and young people, this pamphlet offers practical steps to create communities that are welcoming for all.
I think we should start welcoming children into public space because it’s good for their brains as well as their bodies. Because manipulating little plastic things under artificial light isn’t the be-all and end-all of education. Because contact with nature, life, and a variety of humans and spaces is essential for normal development. Because kids need an escape from corporate mediation, from the saturation of malls and television and fast food joints. Because everyone deserves opportunities for independent discovery. Because no person should be forced to experience the world purely through a screen, from behind a window, or strapped into a carseat.
And above all, because learning that you are part of humanity is an essential precursor to social and political engagement.
“Children Playing”, by David Boyd. [Image source: Art Equity.]