INDEPENDENCE OF MOVEMENT: A necessity for children and a resource for the city

Independence of movement: to allow children to experience the city as freely as possible is one of the main aims of the project “The City of Children”. This involves children being able to go out, meet friends and play in city public spaces without being accompanied. Fundamental experiences such as exploring, discovering, being surprised, being bold and overcoming obstacles and risks from time to time all contribute to the development of an adult personality. These experiences help children make appropriate behavioral choices in response to different situations, and draw from them an increased understanding of what they perceive. Important in this process is the development of some vital defensive tools, which would be checked by the direct presence and constant supervision of adults. Children do not consider a place as their own unless they have been able to freely experience it: a place wasted.

The main reason that prevents children from leaving the house is danger on roads. Statistics (OMS 2016 data) indicate that road accidents are the first cause of death of young people between 15 and 29 years of age. Half of those who die on the roads worldwide are “vulnerable road users”: pedestrians, cyclists and motorcyclists. In Italy, despite the overall decrease of deaths by road accidents (ISTAT 2013 data), we are witnessing an increase in casualties within the age groups 0-4 and 65-69 year olds. Among the people involved in road accidents, pedestrians are one of the most vulnerable categories. In addition to danger from traffic on the roads, parents are also worried about the possible presence of ill-intentioned people, another obstacle to children moving freely in the streets.

Until a few decades ago children went out on their own, more or less as their parents had. Nowadays this is no longer the case for children whilst adults are going out even more. There is a direct link between children being denied the freedom to go out into the streets and their parents making cities unsafe by moving around too much in their cars. Denying children’s independence, however, is not just bad for children's development, it is also damaging to society: the presence of children in the streets means more people out and about, increasing social controls and therefore safety.

Cities are dying from traffic, carbon monoxide, and emissions that corrode monuments. They are dying too, because it is difficult (sometimes impossible) to move around on foot.

Here are 10 reasons to encourage children's independent movement:

  1. Children who travel on foot are generally physically healthier, because they exercise;
  2. Children who walk to school unaccompanied show better ability to focus in class;
  3. Children who walk around unaccompanied develop better knowledge of their environment, improved orientation abilities and mind mapping;
  4. Children who walk around unaccompanied develop a higher degree of social skills and reduce the risk of loneliness and isolation;
  5. Children who walk around unaccompanied acquire greater problem solving skills, to “get by” in difficult or uncertain situations;
  6. Children who walk around unaccompanied develop a greater sense of responsibility and self-confidence, and enjoy the trust of people around them;
  7. Children who can spend their free time playing independently with their friends develop a greater ability to organize themselves, to be creative, and to think and undertake projects;
  8. The less children are accompanied by car the less traffic there is on the roads in general, resulting in less road accidents, in particular around schools, and less atmospheric pollution;
  9. Streets with kids walking about become safer and more pleasant to walk down. With more pedestrians a shared sense of security and responsibility grows, whereas the risk of bad encounters decreases;
  10. Parents and carers normally spend much of their day accompanying/picking up/waiting for children doing their activities. All this time could be employed more usefully, for instance having quality time together.

In Practice

The International Laboratory “The City of Children" proposes sone actions to change the city:

→ "We go to school alone" (in Italian)

"Pedestrians First!" (in Italian)


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