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  • Does this remain a problem in cities today?
  • Is a lack of physical activity “The Problem of the Children” today?
  • Are we willing to identify a safety problem and promote a solution for it?

Reprinted from “The Editor’s Page,” Safety Engineering, Volume 45, Number 4, pages 158-159, May 1923.

In our great cities there exists a problem which, to our thinking is beyond that of any other, and which is nearer to our hearts. This problem is the problem of the children.

With our streets completely monopolized by ceaseless and unending streams of fast moving motor vehicles of every description, with our sidewalks monopolized by throngs of people, most of whom are by necessity to accomplish their missions in a hurry, where is there sufficient space in the open air for the tens of thousands of children to play and obtain recreation? It is pathetic to see such conditions prevailing today. We all can recall our early years, and know how impossible it is for a healthy child to reverse the laws of nature and heredity by trying to forego play. It is a necessity in the child’s development. His whole being responds to the call of the outdoors, and his heart is filled with joy when he can carry out that which his mental and physical being so earnestly desires, but the problem is in the congested areas of population in our cities. There simply is no safe place for the children to play.

Parks and playgrounds are often situated at distances beyond which the child may safely travel alone. The crossing of a single busy thoroughfare is far too dangerous for a child to attempt with the city’s streets infested with speed maniacs. As the record of child killing by automobiles proves – apparently the automobile must be first – the child must suffer. Our civilization has overlooked the fact that where hundreds of thousands of people reside there will be tens of thousands of small children.

A child to have the proper opportunity to develop into a health, strong citizen demands active exercise in the open air for the greater part of the day. To keep the children indoors because of the dangers outside is deliberately retarding their mental and physical development, thereby reducing the strength and stamina of the coming race upon whom the progress and future of this country rest. It seems

that largely for the gratification of adult pleasure – that of riding around in an automobile – the children in our streets throughout the country can no longer take advantage of the fresh air and gratify their innocent and necessary pleasure, but the warning hand is raised and what are they to do? Where are they to go? Tens of thousands of young children at the age when play and exercise in the fresh air for several hours a day are most necessary in their development have

absolutely no place to seek this pleasure save the streets. This being so and practically no street being safe for the use of children, certain streets in congested residential sections should be closed to all traffic and dedicated to the development and pleasure of children, who constitute the most treasured part of our population. Every city can well afford to provide, in cases where there are no playgrounds or parks available, children’s streets where they may play to their hearts’ content without the dangers of being accidentally killed or injured by vehicles.

This is a practical problem and requires a practical solution. Let the children have their place to play, and let us give up to them what they need and what is so vital to their health and happiness – that is, safe places in the open air. To state that children should not play in the streets because they are liable to be hurt by automobiles, is just about as logical as to say that a person should not ride in an automobile because the car may hurt a child. If anything, the child has the best of the argument.

Let there be streets for automobiles and likewise streets for children – safe streets.

Photo credit:  Photo by Boston Public Library on Unsplash

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