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Why children walk less ?

50 – 70 years ago (not so long), most of children were coming back from school walking alone. It is illustrated in movies: ‘mon oncle’ Tati, or ‘La guerre des boutons’ Yves Robert. Now, most of them come back in cars with the parents.

Studies show that kids walk less and less: survey in 2008 in Languedoc-Roussillon estimate ‘70% of all movement of a child between 6 to 14, are in cars.’

(on the graph bellow: ….. Walk – Cars __ )

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Don’t go to far

Why did they not walk more ? Because they are forbidden.

Le médecin britannique William Bird, doctor in Britain, showed it with the exemple of a family, comparing the radius of the area where people were allowed to walk as a 8 years old child on 4 generations.

  • in 2007,  Ed Thomas could go alone at the end of his street, less than 300m of his house.
  • in 1979, his mom, could go to the swimming pool, 800m of his home.
  • in 1950, his grand father could go the the forest, more than 1.5km of his home.
  • in 1919, his grand grand father, could go fishing at more than 10km.

Young kids are not forbidden to walk, but face a lot of bans. They can’t go over some spacial borders around the house, like a tree or another house. Most often a 10 years old child can’t go on the other side of the road (Pascal Legué, urbanist and anthropologue).

Because of cars

Since the XIX century, kids starts to loose a social function in town (Philippe Ariès, historian), moreover, it is in the XX century that starts the desertion of streets by kids. The kids who run and play in streets, disappear from our imaginary, and we saw them in reserved space, as parcs, playground, or halls. For the historian it is the fault of cars and urbanists, who builded cities for adults who have a car. Because a young kid doesn’t have the ability to react against the speed of a car, we removed the right to access the city.

On the graph bellow:
– space for 7-13 years old
– limit of the distance for 7-10 years old
– limit of the distance for 11-13 years old

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Transformation to our relationship to the world

These modifications have important conséquences on children. We notice that they have less endurance than 30 years ago: physical aptitude decrease of 2% every 10 years, although studies shows that a walking daily and continuously, could  check this deterioration.

To give back the right to walk, urbanist Thierry Paquot propose to forbidden cars around school 15 minutes before and after the start and finish of the day. He also propose to rethink the entrance of the schools: where they installed barriers to move away childs from car parks: the space could become a space for exchange and play, garden could be developed in order to create a common intergenerational life space. Instead we think for cars and confines everyone on a reserved space.

I wrote it being inspired by a french article on the subject in Rue89.