I've been wanting to do a post on this for a few weeks now. I got started thinking about it when I read this article in the paper: Initiative encourages walking to school -QCTimes. The article talks about parents' reluctance to let young children walk to elementary school alone, and some of the negative results of this.
It got me thinking about how much things have apparently changed just in the last 15-20 years since I was a student at Garfield Elementary. I'm not sure what grade I started walking. It was rarely by myself but generally with friends, neighbors, or my younger sister, but I believe it was around 3rd grade or so, or about 8 years old, that I walked to school without an adult. These days if you see an 8-year old walking around by himself, most people wonder where his parents are. One person in the article was quoted as saying that while child predators and amber alerts are highlighted by the media more now, its really no more dangerous to let kids walk to school than it was 20 years ago. That actually seems around right to me. A great suggestion in the article is "walking school buses," where kids are picked up by an adult that walks a bunch of kids to school together. I'd love to think we could return to the days of not worrying about kids walking alone, but the adult escort seems like a good start compared to each parent dropping their kid off from a car.
The other thing that came out of thinking back to walking to school, was the amount of freedom I enjoyed to play outside. My parent-approved territory constantly expanded as I got older. First it was the fenced yard that I regularly escaped from, then our half of the block, then both halves of the block (people with alleys know what I'm talking about), then a couple blocks, then the 9-block area I grew up in that was bordered by busier streets, then essentially freedom to go places (within reason) prior to true freedom, a driver's license. I guess I don't know if this kind of thing still exists anymore, or if parents are constantly in fear of the children being snatched by a psycho. I know I see kids playing outside in the street, so it must not have changed too much from when I was a kid. Maybe I'm getting too nostalgic here, but are kids still allowed to roam their neighborhood for hours at a time without being thought of as unwatched hooligans? I remember that there were kids whose parents didn't really care, whose excessive childhood freedom I was jealous of, and were the types of bad influence kids I'm referring to by "hooligans." I'm also curious how this stuff works out north of Kimberly where going "around the block" could be a squiggly, dead-end filled half mile walk. If you live at say, 40th and Forest Rd, where is there to even walk to?
So I haven't really said a lot here of substance as much as put thoughts and questions out there, but I'm hoping for some good discussion. One of my big reasons for supporting traditional neighborhoods and traditional-style new urban developments is my belief that this idyllic "walk-to-Golick's, bike-to-little-league, play-in-the-alley" childhood was beneficial to me as I grew up. Or maybe I can just blame my parents for not buying me a Nintendo.