Thursday, July 31, 2014

How child friendly are our cities

The ABC started a brilliant series called Life at 9. The first episode looked at the question of creativity. They looked at the role of independence and how nine year olds of today have hardly any independence. In comparison, previous generations gave a nine year old a lot more autonomy and they were expected to take on more responsibility. This is essential for the  development of a child's creativity by instilling self confidence in their own ability to solve problems as independent entities from their parents.

In that first episode they did a little test of independence - something that was common in previous generations. They asked the 10 children participating in the study to walk from their home to the closest corner store to buy an ice lolly. Only two of these children could successfully complete the task. The rest couldn't because of:

  • fear of the unknown
  • traffic preventing them from crossing roads
  • the lack of any corner store within walking distance
If you missed it you can watch on Iview.

It really got me thinking about how child-friendly our suburbs are. This month we passed a milestone with our kids. We asked our nine and seven year old daughters to walk to the corner store on their own to buy milk and eggs. We are fortunate in that there are two corner shops within walking distance. The one is on the other side of a busy road that would be difficult to cross. The other can be reached with only crossing minor side streets.

The next level of independence would be for them to walk to school on their own. There is just one road crossing an the route that is a cause for concern. Traffic flies around the corner and it is a hazard for children to cross. In Tokyo parents don't accompany their children on the walk to school. From prep the children walk themselves to school. Would this be possible in our Australian cities?

A nine year old may be a good auditor of the walkability of our neighbourhoods. If a young child can safely navigate their way on foot from home to the corner store or school I think it would be safe to say that we have a walkable neighbourhood. When designing our urban roads we should be designing with the needs of the local residents in mind (especially children), not the need to limit delay to the traffic passing through the suburbs.

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