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Are cities becoming less youth friendly?

/ January 23, 2015

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Are cities becoming less youth friendly?

With childhood obesity at an all time high, it would seem ridiculous for cities to introduce policies that restrict youth from participating in outdoor activities.  Obesity is becoming a major crisis, particularly in the west where there does seem to be a trend of cities introducing legislature that curtails the ability of youth to play outside.  While the excuses of public safety, young hooligans causing problems and crime are often put forward, it seems strange that cities are so quick to discourage youth activities with their unfriendly policies.

As a Canadian, my mind immediately jumps to the road hockey ban that currently exists throughout Toronto.  With hockey being one of Canada’s most valued exports and ice time coming at a premium cost, road hockey is a great way for children to participate in hockey and get exercise.  Road hockey is such a national pastime that it almost seems ridiculous to not be able to play.  Torontonians can be fined $55 for playing road sports in the city, with the reason for such a ban being public safety.  Recently though several members of the public have begun to recognize that children should be allowed to participate in physical activity outdoors, forming committee’s to urge public works to reconsider what they feel is an out of touch piece of legislation.

It is not just Toronto though that has policies similar to this in place, a significant amount of Cleveland suburbs currently have a ban on outdoor basketball.  If banning hockey in Canada seems strange, than banning basketball in the home of Cleveland Cavaliers star, LeBron James seems equally as ridiculous.  The suburbs have each argued that outdoor basketball attracts crime, noise and are not safe.  This anti-youth policy has made it difficult for children to participate in an outdoor activity that is among one of the most popular sports in Ohio.  It is difficult to find affordable ice time in Canada, and in the same way it is difficult to find open indoor courts in Cleveland, Ohio.  Putting a ban on both of these outdoor sports only serves to restrict youth from physical activity, and contributes to the childhood obesity problem that the west is currently experiencing.

Of course one cannot mention restrictive policies without mentioning bans on skateboarding.  Before somebody claims “its dangerous and no good on my property” you should be aware that I am not advocating for skateboarding tricks to be allowed on regular property, that sort of activity should be reserved for set aside areas such as a skate park where skaters do not have to worry about pedestrians, and business owners do not have to worry about the state of their hand rails that skateboarders tend to ‘grind’ on.  Rather, some cities have banned skateboarding and in-line skating altogether.  Going out for a mid-summer skate is both an excellent way of transportation and a quality way to get physical exercise for those who may not enjoy conventional sports.  It’s not easy to push a skateboard or in-line skate, but towns like Wake Forest, North Carolina have banned any wheeled activities, removing a form of physical activity that primarily appeals to young people.

Cities are not making it easy for youth to be able to be physically active.  These policies make the claim of safety, but by doing so actually create a different problem, inactivity.  While a skateboarder may skin their knee, or a hockey player may take a slash to the shins, physical activity remains crucial to a healthy lifestyle.  Sometimes in an effort to promote safety, it goes to far and ends up promoting inactivity instead.  To many restrictions on young people’s ability to play outside only contribute to childhood obesity, and it is time that cities abandon these out of touch policies.

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