Kid Density

There is a comments-section discussion going on at Ann Althouse's blog about the apparent lack of kids playing outside in the suburbs. I've noticed this too, for example in my parents' neighborhood, an outer suburb of Milwaukee. It's a fairly well-to-do area, with large houses on large plots of land. Many backyards and schoolyards have playground equipment in them, but it's rare to see many kids using them.

I think it's probably because these areas don't have many kids per square mile, i.e. the kid density is low. This is due to the large distance between houses and the relatively low kids-per-family that these days comes with wealth and education. I think that unless a certain critical kid density is reached, you are not likely to see groups of kids playing around the neighborhood.

Fortunately, it's a different story where we live, here in Brookline MA. The population here is fairly wealthy and educated, but the population density is very high. The two park areas nearest our house, one connected to the High School and the other a couple of blocks away, are small, but usually alive with kids and adults. It's quite nice to see kids playing on the playground equipment, or playing baseball or soccer. For little kids they have nice fountains to play in. During the summer there are kids playing in those fountains all day long. Adults play with their kids or play softball or basketball. All that activity keeps the "chronically inebriated" and other undesirables away too.

So we've got that going for us. Which is nice.

Ann adds: I think the biggest problem is hyper-paranoia on the part of parents. Our 8 year old girl isn't even allowed to walk around the block by herself. When I said something about it to our 6 year old boy, he said, "No, I might be taken!" I found that very depressing. This is what we teach our kids?

We do have a lot of homeless around here--Los Angeles has a ton, and Santa Monica once invited all the country's homeless to come. They can be creepy, and you figure that most are either mentally ill, alcoholics or addicts. So you do wonder about kids' safety around them, but the fact remains that very, very, very few kids ever have anything happen to them. And the vast majority who do are either "taken" by non-custodial parents, or are abused by family members. The danger to kids is more likely to be your friends and family--people you trust--than the bum on the street.

I think this woman has the right idea: "Why I Let My 9-year-old Ride Subway Alone". She assessed the real dangers, and realized that the threats parents usually fear are mostly paranoia-induced, and that there is the hidden threat of overly-coddled kids who are taught to be afraid of the world around them.