I grew up within the boundaries of the city of Springfield, in a moderately walkable neighborhood where my elementary school was located at the end of my street. I asked my mom and she said that she thinks that she walked with me on the first day of kindergarten, but that after that I just walked on my own. I also came home for lunch and then walked back to school. I remember how cool I thought it was when I finally stayed at school and had lunch in the gymateria(?)…cafenasium(?).
Everybody walked to school then. Even when “forced busing” began I walked to the Washington Street School, and then to Forest Park Junior High. The neighborhood is designed for walking. There are sidewalks on most of the streets, and it is still one of the most middle class areas of the city, and it is still the type of neighborhood where most people leave their doors unlocked during the day.
So now that city schools have gone back to a “neighborhood” system (long story, I’ll tackle that when I have a week or two to dedicate to it!) one would assume that what you see at release time is a wave of kids walking towards their homes. Nope. The street in front of Beale school is nothing but a giant parking lot. It appears as though no one lets their kids walk home.
What is amazing is that this is in spite of the fact that crime has actually dropped since I attended the school, and the fact that study after study shows that walking is beneficial to kids, and that children need to be given some autonomy in order to develop.
In the end it is just so much more cultural inertia. Parents don’t allow it because other parents don’t allow it, and if you do allow it, your child as an isolated figure appears vulnerable to malevolent forces, whereas if people would allow it, then others would allow it and the positive feedback would create such an avalanche of kids moving about that it would no longer seem dangerous.
It’s just so sad. So many of my favorite memories are from the moments I had on my own walking to school by myself and with friends. Kid’s brains go into neutral when they hop in the car. My own daughters could get around our neighborhood without any difficulty while growing up, but for all of the hundreds of trips to grandma and grandpa’s house in Forest Park I remember that they had no idea how to get there on their own. Healthier children, smarter children, parents with a little bit more free time, and countless thousands of hours of idling automobile engines eliminated all by simply letting children do what they would want to do if only they knew it was an option.