Cambridge Outdoors

playing, learning, and being outdoors in Cambridge, Mass.

Free-Range Meets Children and Nature

Free Range meets urban planning meets the play outdoors movement—this trirumvirate is like a pitch you’d make to a film studio. Bend It Like Beckham meets Totoro meets Stand By Me. We’d get Claire Danes to play Lenore Skenazy, who starts the new movement, Ralph Fiennes to play Richard Louv struggling to turn off his iPhone as he enters his off-the-grid bunker-with-a-view, and Roberto Benigni to play an under-employed historian mother-of-two accidentally impersonating an ecologist (That would be me. It’s my blog so I get to do the casting).

A recent post by Skenazy in her blog reports on an outlier example of outright un-neighborly neighborhood design:

One impediment to spontaneous, outdoor meeting/greeting/playing is simply a lack of city planning. Or at least, a lack of planning that prioritizes helping people connect.  it’s hard for a group of kids to meet up at the park, if it’s across a major access road with few stop lights and a sea of cars.

from Free Range Kids » Backdoor Neighbors Have to Drive 7 Miles to Shake Hands.

People connecting with people? No one’s going to object to that goal outright, you might think. Yet cities have their peculiar geographies. As bizarre a circumstance as traveling seven miles to shake hands with next-door neighbor—that stands out. That’s a headline . Other peculiarities are as quotidian as segregated neighborhoods; mixed-zoning areas that are “under the radar,” where environmental pollutants may be less regulated; or the allocation of shade trees along class lines. These are the features that go unexamined to the majority of city dwellers because they are—precisely—part of the landscape.

I’m looking forward to hearing Skenazy speak at Wheelock College when she comes to Boston next week.

Her constant questioning whether our parenting in this era has gotten ridiculously overprotective probably makes a lot people even more uncomfortable in the aftermath of the Newtown, Conn. school shootings. What is the right amount of safety, or more to the point, what is safety itself?  I’m one to say that physical safety, what our gut-level parent instinct tells us to protect, deserves a new look. Preventing our kids from suffering from immediate physical harm from school-shooters, pedophiles and the like, while important, is the low-hanging fruit. Gun control is a no-brainer. Some other things—to name just a few—such as the prevention of noncommunicable diseases, climate-change environmental catastrophe, Internet addiction, relegating people with autism to second-class citizenship, and so-called lifestyle-related diseases, require a bit more coffee (or a few more brain cells) to solve. So, here’s the manifesto (cue ironic brass band music):

Ralph Fiennes: Out of the hammocks and into the trees!

Claire Danes: Out of the cars and onto the streets!

Roberto Benigni: Zone for the Voles, Owls,  Toddlers, and Myriapods!

Not coming to a theatre near you. But to your neighborhood? I hope you’ll go the seven miles (if necessary) to shake hands with your warm, fuzzy city planner and your city councillor and ask them to option this film.

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