Taking it to the Streets

This week’s readings demonstrated the importance of children in public spaces–namely streets– when attempting to make a space more livable and enjoyable. They highlighted the change that has occurred over the last few decades wherein streets have transformed from exciting networks of experiential learning opportunities, to dangerous funnels of high-speed traffic and sinister strangers. By removing the child from the street, society has removed the positive activity and multitude of eyes Jane Jacobs asserts are so necessary to create thriving urban spaces. Instead, according to Francis & Lorenzo, children are now “captive in their homes and often alone. They are institutionalized, over programmed information stuffed, T.V. dependent, “zoned in” and age segregated.” This has created a new generation of children that is much less independent, lacks problem-solving skills and creativity, and is socially underdeveloped. This, of course, produces a society of adults who suffer from these early deficiencies professionally and personally, and merely perpetuate the status quo.

As a child I lived in a large apartment complex that stretched across a sizable property. Though it was not located in a large city, I remember being able to play freely on playground equipment or in the trees, meet friends by foot or bicycle, build forts, igloos, or sleds, and strike off wherever we cared to adventure– as long as we were back by dark. Undoubtedly, these are not only some of my fondest memories but have been crucial in my understanding and interaction with the world as a young adult. The task to reopen streets to civilian activity is vital, but will require changing the focus of planning from being auto-centric to people-centric, as well as dispelling fears of strangers with insidious agendas. Fortunately, the movement seems to be gaining ground, in Europe especially with woonerfs (or “living streets”), but in the U.S. as well with the concept of Complete Streets and Open Streets.

One of my classes at UVM actually partnered with a local cycling and outdoor rec organization, Local Motion, to promote a new event called Open Streets BTV which closed down urban streets in the Old North End (where many streets used to be closed to traffic) to allow cyclists, walkers, skaters, and anyone who cared to join, to participate in an open block party with various events and activities. This event was extremely successful and not only connected the isolated neighborhoods through social interaction, but spurred discussion about closing the streets more often, or perhaps parts of them permanently.

However, regardless whether they are a free of traffic, the word “streets” conjures up dark images of threatening alleys, where crime is king. This seems to be the major problem for the Terrace we are working on: We have an open space (although closing the surrounding area to traffic would help our cause), however, we have to fight the negative connotations surrounding the viccoli and terrace itself if we are to truly “open” the space. Therefore, positive and inclusive activities, where safety is demonstrated and interaction is inherent, are the first steps to converting such spaces into sites where children may once again roam freely and ultimately transform the areas in which they live, play, and eventually work.

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