Tuesday, 13 June 2017

Th child and the city...

A friend of mine shared on facebook the following

Being a woman is kind of like being a cyclist in a city where all the cars represent men
You are supposed to be able to share the road equally with cars, but that's not how it works
The roads are built for cars and you spend a great deal of physical and mental energy being defensive and trying not to get hurt
Some of the cars WANT you to get hurt. They think you don't have any place on the road at all.

It got me thinking, not only from the perspective of human rights, equality for women and men... and those that are not included in this binary way of viewing life... where as adults we DO have a voice to be defensive and avoiding getting hurt... while children do not... they are seldom afforded a voice.
They experience being the cyclist as if in the dark and with no lights or reflectors... they are virtually invisible and the adult world seldom considers them as equals on the road. (Of course I don not include those adults who are working hard to listen to the voice of the child, that are advocating children's rights etc)

 For four years I went out with my group of preschoolers to hand out pepparkakor (gingerbread cookies) as a symbol of goodwill in December... and I was always incredibly ashamed of the behaviour of MOST of the adults. Yes, there were those that came up to the children and interacted, that saw the children, admired their baking skills and enjoyed the message of goodwill... mostly parents with their young children and retired people... the majority actively avoided eye contact with the children (ranging from 2-6 over the years) actively ignoring the children's wishes of goodwill and offerings of sweet things and sometimes even ensuring they walked as far from the children as they could... some even snapped at the children (of course I was always there offering support so the children did not get disheartened.)
the children were forgiving... when we talked about the adults that chose to ignore us they thought it might be because they were shy and did not dare to talk, or were in a hurry and did not have time...
for me I felt sad that we have lost a sense of community where we all participate and support each other and focus on this sense of goodwill.
I ended up taking hundred of photos to document who ignored the children and who interacted... men between the ages of 20 and 60 were those who did most of the active ignoring.

On Friday I will be listening to Tim Gill who writes "Rethinking Childhood" which brings me to the point of cities and child friendliness and space for children to play... and how cities are designed for cars and not for children... maybe even all people...

this in an area between buildings... not designed for children, but the children called it "hide and seek" pak because it was great for that, and they always started with that game before going into other sorts of play... jumping, chasing and building with the junk they found there.
Stockholm has some car free streets during summer... this summer with be the third in "Alive Stockholm" (Levande Stockholm) where several streets are free from cars and filled with people and activities instead... another street has been added to this list of Summer-pedestrian-streets, making it four streets/partial streets that are car free. Some will have pop-up parks. I will be checking them out and taking photos this summer to see just how child-friendly they are. Last year I just enjoyed some of them... this year I want to investigate them a little more.

the city hall is not designed for children, and yet the children found play possibilities here too

and on the 17th of September a part of the city will be completely car free for the day in order to bring up more dialogue about how cars affect the city and the potential of a city without cars...
image from Stockholm Stad
Bilfritt område = carfree area

Those of you who have explore this blog will have seen the page about Stockholm play-spaces... I have shared images of play-spaces here in Stockholm, and also some spaces that are public but I have felt allowed for children's play to be a part of the space too... really that is what we want... spaces where we can all belong with equality, young - old, men - women and everything in between... you know  EVERYONE!

What I see in these play-spaces is that, especially on weekends, there are more adults than children... or at least it feels that way as the big adult bodies take so much space... I watch and see how adults follow their children round the play-spaces. ONLY ONE play space had children playing without any adults in sight... this was in the south suburbs of Stockholm in an area with many immigrants... maybe a different play culture? I liked it, the space belonged to the children, the children were creative in their use of the play space... it reminded me of my own childhood when we went to the park on our own to play - the children in the play space were aged 5-15 - while in the ones dominated by adults the ages were 1-6 maybe a few 7 and 8 year olds too... of course older children will not want to play here, there is no space for them.

In 1998-99 I did a research on how children use museums looking at 6 museums in Stockholm and six museums in Yorkshire... interviewing parents, teachers and the museum workers. What I found was that museums in Sweden seemed to have more space for children on the side of the exhibitions... yes they had considered the children, but they had not made the exhibitions inclusive and attractive to all in the same way that museums in Yorkshire had... the UK museums had a greater focus on connecting their exhibitions to the school curriculum than in Stockholm (although Sweden is catching up on that it is still no way near what the UK museums offer in the sense of down-loadables etc... and that might not always be a good thing... I am just stating fact.)
But for me, this sectioning off feels like much of what happens with children all the time... they are institutionalised from the age of one (some start preschool later here in Sweden) where most of the play will be within the preschool perimeters - indoors and outdoors.... I have worked at MANY places that have said one and two year olds should not be taken on excursions because they are too young, or it is too dangerous etc etc... and I have worked at a place without their own outdoor space and saw that ALL ages can play all over the place... we just have to conquer those spaces... in the sense that yes, we ARE allowed to play here.
Together on the Square... the children designing how their dream square would look... it went through MANY design changes over the six months, as they learned more about the needs of others...

I spent 6 months on a project called "Together on the Square" where the children and I explored how the public square could be a place for everyone to meet, to learn about our community and to participate in it with others... The children played on the open square OFTEN, and by choice. There were no climbing frames or things specifically designed for children... but there was space to run and play... and in winter the snow was plowed into big piles here making fantastic places to play on unintentionally. By taking the time we allowed the children, and ourselves to see the play potential of this public space. This gave us all the strength to see play potential in other public spaces... my adult eyes got to see a new Stockholm! in the film below you get to see "our Stockholm" we really travelled all over the place and finding play everywhere... I am also fortunate not to have been constrained by a variety of policies that restrict how I go out - safety is important, but the teacher is deemed competent in knowing what is safe to do with the children... this group of children I had worked with for 3.5 years, I trusted them completely, as they trusted me... this meant we could go on adventures together... for some groups I have worked with where there is not the trust yet, or the ability to explore safely then I have asked parents to come too... In Sweden we have on average a 1:5 adult- child ratio.

I am looking forward to listening to Tim Gill and finding out more about children and cities... and making cities more people friendly.

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