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The Use of Sidewalks: Assimilation of Children

December 6, 2008

This is a continuation of the series of posts about Jane Jacobs’ book, The Death and Life of Great American Cities. The last post was about the use of sidewalks relating to contact among strangers. Today’s post is related to sidewalks’ use for assimilation of children.

41qzabjvsbl_sl160_According to Jacobs, sidewalks serve many useful purposes in addition to simply serving as a thoroughfare for pedestrians. Chapter 3, The Use of Sidewalks: Assimilation of Children, starts by telling how children are much safer while playing on the sidewalks than they are while playing in a park or playground. She explains the reason for this is that sidewalks on lively streets are always being watched by everyone else on the street. This is the very thing she talked about in Chapter 1, The Use of Sidewalks: Safety. When more people are walking to and fro on the sidewalk and going in and out of stores and shops along the street, the street is safer. It is the lack of this behavior in parks and playgrounds that tend to make them unsafe. However, there are certain exceptions where the park is small and is in the middle of a stretch of an active, busy street. This park would be safer, since it is being watched by the passersby.

She goes on to say that sidewalk interaction is vital to rearing a child. She says that strangers take some limited responsibility for others and seeing this in action is what creates a more well-rounded child. She says this lesson can not be learned merely by the parent telling the child, but the child must experience it in action. She gives the example of a shopkeeper sticking his head out of his door to yell to a child who is entering a busy street. Seeing this happen shows the rest of the children that the shopkeeper has a certain degree of responsibility for them. Then, when they grow up, they are more likely to exhibit this behavior to others.

The final thing Jacobs says about sidewalks’ use in the assimilation of children is that by being in an atmosphere of a mixture of adults, the children learn things from all the different types of people — women and men, young and old. She says that the current planning theory, which places high priority on separating commercial areas from residential areas, is very matriarchal. Historically, the father worked and the mother stayed home. This is not the case as much today as it was when Jacobs wrote the book in 1961, but the concept still applies. So my mixing residential and commercial and allowing the children to play in the sidewalks, they get exposure to men and women of all ages from whom they will learn valuable life lessons.

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