For those of you that don’t know me, I have 2 boys and 1 girl on the way. I am currently preparing to move into a new home and have been doing some renovations in the house before we move in. During the time we’ve spent over at the house, my 6 year old son has found some friends and is enjoying riding his scooter around the neighborhood with the other boys and girls.
I’ve noticed that my son doesn’t really spend much time in a traditional back yard. Most of the interactions I’ve seen have been out in the streets and sidewalks of the neighborhood. They ride their bikes and scooters, play with water balloons, and have spent many hours playing with Nerf guns, but mostly in “shared” neighborhood spaces and not in the backyards of other homes.
Also, think back to the movie The Sandlot and remember how the kids in that movie interacted with each other. They didn’t spend their time in anyone’s backyard. They grouped together in community “shared” space. (If you haven’t seen this movie, it is worth your time!) Kids really haven’t changed much over the years.
Seeing how my son has interacted with these friends got me thinking about what kind of space kids are actually looking for in a home and for their social interactions.
If you’ve kept up with my blog then you know my interests lie in urban planning and development and I think about how the cities we live in will change with the next generation’s desire to live in more urban and walkable environments. One of the biggest questions I have is what is going to happen to these same individuals when they begin having children of their own? Will they be satisfied with apartment living with a family or will they transition out to the suburbs just like we do now? How do we, as developers, plan for the future developments considering growing families?
I follow a blog titled “Architect This City” in which the author ran a very basic study asking his readers to complete a short survey to find out how people will eventually live when and if they have children. You can read his short article here. The conclusion he came to was that most people still want to raise their kids in a house and not an apartment.
With this conclusion as well as my recent experience watching my son interact with the neighborhood kids, a question is raised in my head… How do we plan cities and neighborhoods knowing that people want to live within walkable distance to their work, entertainment, and food establishments, but most kids need a shared space to interact with friends?
Most people see a neighborhood as the solution simply because they don’t have any idea how they would raise a family in the urban core of their city. This same issue has led to the current urban sprawl that we live in. People are moving further and further away from their jobs in order to provide a “suitable” living space for their family.
I know from personal experience that commuting 3 hours per day is no fun and does not provide for an ideal family life. If we don’t plan for more family friendly spaces within our current developments, the trend will continue with 20-somethings moving out of the city when they begin their families.
The conclusion that I’ve come to is that our kids don’t really need the backyard of a traditional neighborhood in order to interact with their friends, but instead they need a SAFE “shared” space to have fun. I’ve noticed a growing trend of city-planned skate parks, neighborhood parks with water splash pads, and other family friendly areas, but they are typically outside of the city in the suburbs and there really isn’t any way to make them walkable due to the distance between neighborhoods.
Can we plan our future urban developments to include safe spaces for kids to interact and have fun? If so, I believe we will be able to entice the next generations to stay living within the urban core of our cities and continue expanding the density that is needed to support more walkable cities and mass transit solutions.
What are your thoughts regarding “The Sandlot Principle” that I’ve presented here? I would love to hear your opinion and start a conversation below in the comments section. Let me know what you think!