Part 2: Exterior Space

In our part of the world, spring is in full swing. The snow is gone, the buds are starting to open, and bulbs have poked up through the ground. With the recent spat of warm weather comes the sound of children playing outside. And the Bear is now running off to seek and join the neighborhood kids. I love that, at the age of four, she can safely frolic up and down our street unsupervised but still within distance of us calling her home for dinner. I don’t mean to wax nostalgic for some sort of 50’s idealized lifestyle, but there is something to be said for neighborhoods that are conducive to this type of play and community.

I know that I’ll probably take some heat for this post, but I think that it is important to consider how some houses/neighbourhoods limit what we are calling free-range parenting or slow parenting or idle parenting.

1. Distance and car dependency.
Homes with a great distance to basic amenities are limiting. This is simply because children cannot access places on their own – school, library, playgrounds, or perhaps other playmates. This is very anti-idle parenting as the children become reliant on their parents to drive them rather than having the ability to walk or bike on their own. Secondly, the children spend more time in the back of a car as they accompany their parents doing routine errands. Getting milk, for example, requires a drive in a car.

2. The driveway at the front of the house.
I know, I know, this is the way most homes are built today. But just because it is the norm doesn’t mean it is right. Neighborhoods that have driveways in the front of the houses limit playability for children in public areas.

3. Nature deficit.
I know that in urban settings it can be difficult to give children the opportunity to connect with nature. I feel fortunate to live in a city that has a great river valley and trail system so that most communities are never far away from the real outdoors. But there are still many neighborhoods that limit children’s access to nature with concrete and more concrete. The further children are from nature, the harder it will be for them to build an appreciation of it.

4. Community.
Do the children know their neighbors’ names? Do they meet people they know when they are out for a bike ride or at the playground? Do they feel part of a group other than the people their parents choose to associate with? This sense of belonging builds tolerance, a sense of cooperation, togetherness and association.

New urbanism is the movement that is often cited as the driving force for reining in urban sprawl and aiming to design cities that are more livable through a diverse use of space. And Cittaslow (slow city) has become a cornerstone of the slow movement. Carl Honore visits and advocates for slow cities in his books, Under Pressure and In Praise of Slow. These urban design philosophies are changing the way people live. Interestingly, in 2009, the small village of Cowichan Bay on Vancouver Island became Canada’s and North America’s first Cittaslow town. Urban design philosophies such as new urbanism and cittaslow are fundamental to raising free range children.

A few weeks ago, Lenore Skenazy from Free Range Kids wrote a guest piece on PBS.org. The comments she got were astounding. A major theme of her critics was questioning how could they let their children play outside unsupervised when there were no other children for them to play with and there were too many cars going in and out of driveways. All I could think was, yup, then something has to change. If you can identify the limits, then you can challenge them.

I’ll leave you with this video about new urbanism.

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3 Responses to “Part 2: Exterior Space”


  1. 1 roma April 18, 2010 at 11:57 pm

    love this post. wish I lived in a neighbourhood like that – however my street has regular HOON drivers durinig burn outs around the corner, no kids and just some place where you just dont want to be. I think it’s wonderful that Edmonton still has places like that – if someone lives knows a place like that in Melbourne let me know otherwise i think by the time C is old enough to walk, we’ll have had to move bush! Actually i should build a village like that one in Maryland on my dad’s land haha. Only I don’t think i could find anyone who would move there in this area! Sad but true.

    • 2 roma April 18, 2010 at 11:59 pm

      ps sorry about the typos – that should have read doing burn outs. The lack of sleep after a weekend of skidding sounds has tired me out 😀

      • 3 Mama Tortoise April 19, 2010 at 3:36 am

        Thanks for the comments, Roma! So hard to find ‘everything’ in a neighbourhood! But aiming for some of these elements is a good start. As I was reading about Cittaslow, I was thinking that aiming to vacation in these cities around the world would be a fun idea.


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