February’s Street Talk

Tim Gill, Rethinking Childhood: There’s a salmon in my street – the outdoor child as an indicator species for the quality of urban environments

Picture the place where you grow up. How did you get around? Where did you play as a child, and hang out as a teenager? Now imagine children growing up today in that same area. How do you think their experiences would compare with yours?

It is often said that kids today grow up faster than they used to. As a statement about their everyday freedoms, nothing could be further from the truth – as we know from the seminal work of Mayer Hillman on children’s independent mobility. Anxious parents are often blamed for this shift to a more captive childhood. Yet parents have to deal with the environment that is around them. For decades, transport and planning policies have worked against creating the kind of compact, liveable neighbourhoods that help parents to untie the apron strings.

The everyday lives and neighbourhoods of city children were a key focus of the work of great urbanists like Jane Jacobs (who devoted a whole chapter of Death and Life of Great American Cities to the topic) and Kevin Lynch (who, after his seminal Image of the City, went on to spearhead UNESCO’s international Growing Up in Cities programme in the 1970s). Recent years have seen lively debate about both the future of cities and the changing nature of childhood. Yet there have been few serious attempts to join the dots.

Tim Gill argues that this has to change. Join us for February’s Street Talk to explore why children’s everyday freedoms matter: to them, to communities, to policy makers and to the planet. Just as with the salmon or the house sparrow, children’s presence in public space should be seen as an indicator of the quality of their habitats. Is the outdoor child becoming an endangered species?

Upstairs at The Yorkshire Grey, 2 Theobalds Road, WC1X 8PN at 7pm (bar open 6pm) on 7th February.

Tim Gill is one of the UK’s leading thinkers on childhood. His work, which focuses on children’s play and free time, has a real, positive impact on children’s everyday lives. His influential book No Fear: Growing up in a risk-averse society was published in 2007. His consultancy clients include Barnardos, the Forestry Commission, the National Trust, Argent plc and the Olympic Park Legacy Company, amongst others. He appears regularly in the mainstream and specialist press, and on broadcast media. Tim blogs at his website, rethinkingchildhood.com.

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