Y is for Youth

May 14th, 2007

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Concerns for the health and safety of children were central components of ideal urban structure theories of the early twentieth century. Ebenezer Howard’s Garden City, promoted in his book To morrow, a Peaceful Path to Real Reform (1898), consisted of six “neighborhood units” bounded by through-traffic streets, each with a central elementary school located just a few blocks from the furthest residence. Forest Hills Gardens, Long Island, New York (1910+), was the first American test of this schoolchild-focused neighborhood idea. See N is for Neighborhood.

The culture shock of World War I brought on not only the wild excesses of the Jazz Age of the 1920s, but also a heightened perception of youth as the promise and salvation of the future. In the planned neighborhood developments of the 1920s, elementary schools were centrally located within easy walking distance of their student population.

The 1920s was also the first decade to feel the severe negative impact of the automobile, with thousands of school-age children being killed by motorists. In response, there was a movement to reduce or eliminate all through-traffic in new suburban developments. At Radburn (Fair Lawn, New Jersey) this emphasis on child safety resulted in the total separation of vehicular and pedestrian pathways. Here elementary-school-age children could walk from home to school through center-block parks without walking along or across a street.

The educational and recreational needs of older children were provided for in the 1920s in the siting of large, architecturally impressive, central high schools and their organized sports fields. These schools became integral components of town and city centers. High-school-age children thus had after-school access (either by foot or by electric trolley car or rubber-tired bus systems) to downtown or “Main Street,” where the retail shops, theaters, and other places of amusement were located.

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