The presence of animals, like bees, frogs and children can tell you about the health of the ecosystems that support them. Scientists call them indicator species.
OK, so children aren’t actually on that list. But maybe they should be. What better indicates the health of a human community than the noise, snot, and tumble of kids? Not just whether children exist, but whether they are present. Seen and heard, not tucked away smurfing the net with faces lit blue by devices.
Parks full of kids speak of trust and health. Kids bumbling between houses, Spiderman costumes scrambling up trees, and chalk drawings on pavement, tell a story of a community of people who know and trusts their neighbours.
And when kids are out the parents follow. Or vice versa. As a parent in a connected community you spend more time in the front yard, rather than the back. You say hello to people walking past. Not just to be nice, but because you too need to be present. You want people to know you’re there.
You end up saying hello to the dad walking the ninja princess back from the park. You nod to the dog walker from around the corner. And the old lady who lives four houses down stops and talks on her way to the shop and tells you what you’re doing wrong with your azalias.
Oh sweet nostalgia, right. But it doesn’t have to be. We don’t have to relegate connected neighbourhoods to some The Sullivans past. There are communities like this still. And there can be more.
Alternatively, what does a neighbourhood vacant of kids say? Streets made up of the coming and going of cars and the blue-flicker of television in the windows. A vacancy that invites, and describes, disconnection and distrust. What does it say what we about the world? About our neighbours? About our kids?
I think we all know which community we want to live in. We want kids to be active and creative and connected, and we also want to live in the kind of community that supports that.
So, when local kids are out and about testing the boundaries of space and patience let’s not shut them down. Let’s not be the neighbour whose complaint over the piercing of our hermetically sealed lives leads a local government to handcuff play in the macramé of policy. We saw it this week with the revelation that a WA local government had included the line, “Your premises should not become the general play area for the children living nearby” in a policy on backyard basketball. And earlier in the week there was news of a Canadian community that that banned kids playing on the street.
Let’s be the community, instead, that takes joy in the shouts and whispers of childhood next door, in the park, in our own houses, and on our streets. Let’s be the kind of community that led the City of Vincent to change its policy to allow residents to have tree swings on their verges.