Thursday, April 24, 2008

A new urban message

On April 22, Department of Environmental Protection commisioner Gina McCarthy gave an Earth Day address at Wesleyan University lamenting the lack of outdoor child’s play.
Her words may have made for a terrific speech and an equally as engrossing newspaper story.
Her statement, “I believe that one of the fundamental challenges we have in the 21st century is that nobody goes outside and plays,” was met with a round of applause.
It reminds me of my college days: Professors speaking theoretical truths to audiences who either share the same view or take their words as gospel.
Books like Richard Louv’s “Last Child in the Woods: Saving Our Children from Nature-Deficit Disorder” give the impression that in 2008, the majority of children are either kept indoors by parents afraid of “today’s world” or kids themselves who prefer playing Game Boys, Wiis, computer games and the like.
Her statements do hold true for suburbia, where it's rare to see children playing in a yard like they did even 20 years ago.
In Berlin, Haddam, Middletown and all over, you wouldn't even know children lived there, much less played outdoors. They look like ghost towns.
However, interestingly, in urban, poorer, working-class neighborhoods, there are children playing outdoors from the moment they’re released from school until their parents call them in at dusk.
In fact, in the North End, there are a group of boys ranging in age from 5 to 16 who ride bikes, skateboards and scooters together on our dead-end street and sidewalks. All the residents take turns talking to and looking out for the children and even offer them drinks of water, popsicles, the use of our telephones, and sprinklers when they look to be overheated.
There is no doubt, Ms. McCarthy, “No Child Left Inside” is a laudable program for inner-city kids who don't have green grass to play in.
But take a look around. Children are still playing outdoors together and they are coming home with scrapes, poison ivy and having climbed trees and fallen off their bicycles. There are small pockets of communities encouraging children to engage in safe, social play.
You just have to look.

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