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The City as an Educational Medium for Children

kids and cities

In January we featured a family from Downtown Atlanta.  As an urban parent ATL Urbanist told us what it was like living in Downtown with his son, both good and bad. 

One of our questions was what we thought his son would gain from living in Downtown Atlanta. 

Many parents we speak with often cite the cultural resources, diversity, and convenience. But ATL Urbanist noted the social benefit. 

Despite only being in second grade his son has a plan to help the homeless with housing and jobs.  Living in an urban environment creates opportunities to experience a diverse range of people and issues that affect the city. 

If we preserve the historical diversity of our cities, they present an unparalleled opportunity to expose our children to a world filled with people that are not exactly like them.  And with that, potentially an entire generation that will be more in touch with the challenges of urban America.

ATL Urbanist's son likely benefits from good parenting and being taught a general concern for the well being of others. 

But by living in Downtown Atlanta he has the opportunity to experience first-hand some of our greatest urban challenges. 

Many parents that live in less urban environments convey the 'dangers' of the city.  But for an urban parents and children, these perceived 'dangers' resemble teachable moments.  Opportunities to learn about those that are not necessarily like you. 

Through his daily encounters he has developed a sense of empathy, not fear, which has created a drive to want to change and better things for those around him. 

His desire to improve conditions is not based on someone else's view or having been taught or explained a situation.  It is from his own first-hand experience. 

Those that create change with the greatest impact typically begin from a first-hand experience not the teachings of a classroom or a news story.

All too often the policies crafted to solve our urban dilemmas come from those that couldn't be any further removed from the challenges they are attempting to solve. 

That doesn't mean that their intentions are not for the good of the recipients, but what they want to solve and how they want to solve it typically lacks first hand knowledge and experience of the problem.  We don't know what ATL Urbanist's son is proposing, but frankly it doesn't matter. 

He is demonstrating a willingness and desire to want to change something for the better based on what he experiences on a day-to-day basis.  

The ability to hide a community's problems is a dramatic difference between many urban and suburban communities. 

While our most urban communities may fall susceptible to a sort of ivory tower complex as a consequence of creating a monoculture, its challenges are often still very visible.  They cannot be hidden behind a garage door or neatly tucked away in the backyard. 

And while many parents may cry that urban parents are doing harm by living in an environment where its challenges are so plainly visible, they create no greater harm than the ones that are so consciously hidden.  We should not shelter our children from the challenges of the world.

Doing so is lying to them and painting a picture that isn't real.

While there are many people who attempt to do as much good as possible to help those in need, our society largely does not understand the challenges of others, by choice and by environment.  Challenges like what drives inequity and inequality, challenges with addiction, homelessness, and poverty. 

Which must make us wonder, how much of our lack of understanding and empathy for these challenges are a  result of hiding them? 

Certainly a few will construe this argument for some kind of twisted advocacy to put children at harm but that is certainly not the case. 

Exposing children to people that are unlike them is not nearly as harmful as strapping them into a box of glass and metal hurling through the world at 60 mph or sending them out to play in streets that were built for heavy duty trucks rather than people.

Will placing every child in an urban environment mean that they will all create solutions to our urban challenges by second grade?  Not likely. 

Nor does it mean that a child living in a less dense, more suburban environment is completely lacking in sympathy or ingenuity to create solutions. 

But it proves the power and value of allowing our children to navigate a world filled with people unlike them may hold.  And it demonstrates that what many may perceive as bad or dangerous are actually influential moments. 

So while many parents shake their heads in disbelief that we are not fearful of someone who is homeless, or of a different race or ethnicity, parents such as ATL Urbanist may very well be creating a new and better generation of urban thinkers that will craft solutions based on experience. 

It is my hope that my own child and other urban parents around us will be able to do the same.

Photo Credit: Kids and Cities/shutterstock