Urban sprawl no fun for kids
Laura Stone in the Vancouver Sun on two reports from the Vanier Institute of the Family. The Sun of course does not provide a link to either of the reports or the institute so I have saved you the Google search.
Neither, it seems to me, says anything very new or surprising.
“We have built cities that actively discourage walking and biking among children, certainly when we compare the experiences of today’s children and those of their parents,” writes Juan Torres, an urban planner and professor at the University of Montreal, in his study titled Children & Cities: Planning to Grow Together.
It also actively discourages walking and biking in the population as whole. We have known for a long time that this has had serious health effects – but I understand that Larry Frank is doing even more research on that. Obesity, type 2 diabetes and heart disease are all directly caused by lack of physical activity and are strongly correlated to suburbs. I took the picture below yesterday when I went for a walk to post a letter. This is not within one of the dendritic pattern subdivisions but on a main artery – No 4 Road.
There is a sidewalk on the other side of the road – but no crosswalk. You are expected to go back to Steveston Highway, cross at the lights and then retrace your steps. I, of course, jaywalk. Which is one reason why we worry about our children. Do as I say not as I do. Crossing the street is taking your life in your hands.
A second report, Caution! Kids at Play?, written by psychology student Belinda Boekhoven from Carleton University in Ottawa, finds that a decline in unstructured playtime and outdoor space in cities, also related to urbanization, can affect a child’s self-motivation and self-reliance.
The report is essentially a summary of lots of other studies. It does not, it seems to me, deal with why parents now feel they must supervise their children’s activities at every step – or have some responsible adult do it for them. Partly it is the very realistic fear that children are at risk when walking and cycling of being struck by moving motor vehicles.
For the past 30 years unintentional injuries have been the leading cause of childhood mortality among children. The rate in Canada is among the highest in the developed world. …Motor vehicle injuries lead the list of injury deaths at all ages during childhood and adolescence. source: A review of risk factors for child pedestrian injuries
What I heard at work when this issue was discussed was that while this factor is the statistically significant one, the one that is still high in parents’ minds is “stranger danger” or the “Michael Dunahee effect”. Child abductions by strangers are very rare events but they are also very prominent in media reports. It is a fear that is also successfully exploited by Hollywood. Taken together, the lack of safe pedestrian paths, the dispersed distribution of all facilities due to land use policies and the real and, possibly exaggerated, fears of parents are the real threats to children.
A study published in the October 2009 ITE Journal reports on survey results in Hillsborough County, Florida among both parents and children on factors that prevent walking or biking to school. “Violence or crime” was reported as a factor by 42% of parents but only 5% of children.
The question is not so much what do we do about this – after all, as I said at the top, none of this is news and safe routes to school and walking school buses and all the rest have been around for years. The real question is what does it take for us to do something really effective about all of this and bring about real change. I can see why the seemingly remote possibilities of climate change disaster seem less pressing than the “need” to stimulate economic growth. But when it is our own children that are threatened, why is it that these problems continue and are not effectively addressed?
Thanks to regular reader and sometimes commenter Richard Campbell I am now aware of the blog of a mother who is trying to tackle this issue. Its called “Free Range Kids”. She was labelled “America’s worst Mom” because she allowed her 9 year old son to ride the subway on his own.
Incidentally if you want to know what a day in the life of a transportation planner doing pedestrian studies looks like, head on over to the Unemployment Roadshow.
October 2009 was “International Walk to School Month“