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REVIEWED BY LISA CASEY, ASLA

FROM THE APRIL 2021 ISSUE OF LANDSCAPE ARCHITECTURE MAGAZINE.

 

Connecting children to public space outdoors had a watershed moment, a clarion call, in 2005 when Richard Louv published his now classic Last Child in the Woods: Saving Our Children from Nature-Deficit Disorder. A journalist with a gift for storytelling, Louv was able to take the facts of the disturbingly shrinking time that young people spend outdoors and wrap it in a way that sparked the imagination of parents, educators, and child advocates everywhere. Although landscape architects, planners, and environmental psychologists have observed, studied, and discussed these trends for decades, his clarity at a key inflection point opened a movement like that of Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring or Aldo Leopold’s A Sand County Almanac.

However, there is something of an unspoken assumption around the original research and Louv’s framework in saying that the previous generation had better access to nature. Some did, as in the enthralling story that Kathryn Aalto shares in The Natural World of Winnie-the-Pooh of the eight-year-old A. A. Milne with his 10-year-old brother going on a long, unaccompanied ramble through the English countryside in the 1890s. Milne was the son of a progressive school headmaster and certainly had an exceptional childhood with such independence. Many of his contemporaries, at least half within the United States, were already in the workforce by age 14 according to the historian Robert Gordon. Young girls of the same age were in a different but no less dreary position of unending drudgery at home. The image of the carefree youth, which Mark Twain so eloquently captured in The Adventures of Tom Sawyer during this era, is ultimately one of privilege. In the early 20th century, fortunate boys living without the unending chores of a farm or factory hours in the city had more leisure time to explore the woods and streams. “The country road with barefoot boys, dogs, and fishing poles was an important part of early twentieth century small-town iconography,” notes Gordon, quoting Sinclair Lewis. The iconic youth in small towns was in various ways an elite group. How many prior generations of children of color and girls were never in Louv’s proverbial woods in the first place?

The editors of The Routledge Handbook of Designing Public Spaces for Young People focus on providing access and voice specifically to these groups of marginalized young people. Access, in particular, has been a central topic in the research and at conferences. There has also been increasing discussion around social justice. However, empowering voices within the process is a newer concept that brings a different set of challenges to the committed professional. (more…)

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Produced and directed by Austin Allen, an associate professor at Louisiana State University, Claiming Open Spaces is a documentary on the perception of parks, in cities such as New Orleans and Detroit, from the cultural perspective of the African Americans who use them. As noted by a young Walter Hood, ASLA, the cultural makeup of the communities that use city parks is often left out of planning and programming, which can alienate the people meant to use them. This lapse comes up in interviews with residents who fondly remember a neighborhood park before it was redesigned and with kids who wonder why they are constantly hounded by police for simply enjoying time in the park.

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