An historical analysis of young people’s use of public space, parks and playgrounds in New York City

In this paper I present childhood biographies of three people who grew up in or near a public housing development located on the border between the contrasting communities of Yorkville and East Harlem in New York City. Stories of their middle childhood (ages 11-13) poignantly capture the social and spatial evolution of play and recreation in New York City from the 1930s until present time. Based on in-depth childhood autobiographies and archival materials from the New York Times, I demonstrate changes in children’s access to play and recreation space, how children negotiate their lived experiences in these spaces, and how these spaces reflect differing representations of childhood over time. While play and recreation are, of course, a broad range of activities that occur in multiple settings and under various forms of supervision, the focus of this paper is upon the role of the streets, public parks and playgrounds in children’s everyday lives. Preliminary results suggest that children’s access to public play spaces in New York City has declined over time. This decline can be attributed to public disinvestment in neighborhood parks and playgrounds, perceived (and real) violence in these spaces, and more recently, to the commercialization and privatization of playtime activities.

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Title:  An historical analysis of young people’s use of public space, parks and playgrounds in New York City

Author(s): Pamela Wridt

Publication Date: 2004

Publisher: Children, Youth and Environments