Academic journal article Social Justice

The Need for Nature: A Childhood Right

Academic journal article Social Justice

The Need for Nature: A Childhood Right

Article excerpt

Shrinking Childhood Outdoors

A growing number of professionals are beginning to express concern that children are spending less time outdoors. Louv (1990) and Nabban and Trimble (1994), for example, are often quoted as sources of anecdotal evidence, to which Hillman and Adams (1992) give empirical weight. To these statements of apprehension, add the concerned voices of children-environment researchers raised at professional meetings and the observations of writers in the popular press. All comment on both the negative impact on children of physical changes happening in the outdoor environment and the more tightly structured culture of childhood that is tending to keep children indoors for more time. Japanese photographer Keiki Haginoya (1994) for almost two decades made wonderful photographs of children's play in Japanese cities. In the last few years, children have disappeared so rapidly from his viewfinder that he has had to bring this chapter of his work to an end. Either indoor spaces have become more attractive, or outdoor spaces have become less attractive - or both.

Historically, making space for children has never been the top priority for city planning. However, former vacant land and open areas of the city - like waterfronts, abandoned railroads, and old industrial areas - have often been used by children informally, with or without the knowledge and consent of the owners. In more recent years, these once vacant areas have been redeveloped or fenced for security as urban land use has become much more tightly planned or replanned. The net loss to children has been substantial, since these erstwhile play areas have not been replaced by officially sanctioned spaces.

The findings of Hillman and Adams (1992) confirm my own research with eight-to- 12 year olds in England in the mid- 1970s (Moore, 1986a) that children are losing access to outdoor space. In the earlier study, examples of unhealthy (or "developmentally inappropriate") restrictions on children's use of the outdoors were rare. Fifteen years later, Hillman and Adams present them as commonplace.

Factors Restricting Access to Outdoors

The list of barriers and restrictions on the changing world of childhood has increased substantially in the last few decades:

Traffic Dangers: When the results of the British study referred to above (Moore, 1986a) are combined with the results of a similar study of the urbanizing San Francisco Bay region (Moore, 1980), and combined with an international review of the empirical research from the same period (Moore and Young, 1978), there is one inescapable conclusion. The increase in traffic density on residential and arterial streets was the one universal factor above all others that restricted the development of children's spatial range, thereby limiting children's knowledge of the community environment - including its natural characteristics and components.

Traffic danger has been with us ever since horses rode into town. The invention of the horseless carriage increased the level of danger, greatly reinforced by the lack of attention to the needs of pedestrians in the design of residential streets. Early reactions to these unhealthy conditions in the form of "play streets" (closing streets to traffic during times when children were most likely to be outdoors) were instigated in New York, London, and other European cities beginning in the 1950s. As levels of traffic increased, some cities began to physically reconfigure residential street layouts to accommodate pedestrian activity more safely. At the same time, the British New Towns (Stevenage, for example) went several steps further by providing complete "grade-separation" between pedestrians and motorized traffic. The most recent innovation in the design and redesign of urban neighborhoods in favor of pedestrians was the introduction in the 1970s of the Woonerven in the Netherlands and Germany.

Even though several proven solutions now exist to redress the street environment in favor of pedestrians, the great majority of the world's municipalities have yet to adopt them on a scale that would make a measurable difference to children's quality of life. …

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