html xmlns="" xml:lang="en" lang="en"> From the archives: I've wanted to keep chickens for years.

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

I've wanted to keep chickens for years.

I liked this idea, of neighbors taking down their interior fences to make a large communal backyard. I liked that idea more when I first proposed it in a ninth grade essay on how to improve cities, and I am sorry that it has taken so long for my early works to become influential. I’ve had time to reflect since that seminal essay, and I am no longer as sold on the idea. Combined backyards sounds like a small interior park, and while that is probably better than many even smaller pieces of turf, I think I want my parks to be larger and open to the public and have cooler play equipment than a bunch of neighbors can afford. Although, if a combined back yard meant that we could salvage and install those seriously high metal swings from our childhood, I would choose that over the pansy-ass, not-high-enough, brightly colored plastic swings you get in parks now.

Speaking of entirely inadequate swings for keeping children safe, this photo-essay* from Slate awakens all my unsubstantiated beliefs about how kids are raised these days. Lots of people in my age cohort clearly remember all sorts of freedom and autonomy of the “go play outside, be back for dinner and at dark” variety. Bill says his parents would be shocked at how far abroad he rode on his bike; Chris was free-range for sure; Margie said her Mom never knew where she was playing. It seems like people my age simultaneously want that for their kids and believe it isn’t possible. (Well, my friends’ kids are very young still.) I can’t figure out what is really stopping parents from that ‘turning their kids lose on the streets all evening’ existence that we grew up with. Combination of a culture of fear (unfounded – crime is down), societal pressure (no one else lets their kids out and they’ll say you’re the parent who doesn’t care if your kid gets snatched), poor urban design (not enough density, dangerous streets, and no adult eyes on front porches)? Chris lived in Santa Cruz (rich, white) and taught in Watsonville (poor, Mexican-American) and said that he’d never see kids on the streets in Santa Cruz, but that Watsonville was exactly like the ‘50s stereotypes of kids playing streetball all evening, every evening. Which makes me wonder if I would move my family to a poor ethnic neighborhood to provide that opportunity for my kids. Anyway, I watch my friends who think just like me act more protective than I think I would. I have to assume that when I feel those pressures, I’ll act like my friends are. But I don’t like it.

The final item in the theme of ‘lifestyles that I imagine for myself based on no real evidence’ is that I have wanted to live upstairs in a north-facing fourplex since I moved to Sacramento. These fourplexes are all over Midtown and the best of them have upstair balconies across both apartments. I want to live in one of those, despite the fact that I love my adorable little bungalow. Second story so I can walk around naked and street level people can’t see me! Drinking on an upstairs balcony has got to be even better than drinking on a porch. So much light! My plants would be so happy! So I’ve had this entirely achievable dream for several years now, and I apparently don’t want it enough to move out of my house.

But! I can combine that dream with another odd notion that I’ve had for a while, which is that I think I would like living in the upstairs apartment across from my still-imaginary husband. Some people react very strongly to that, say that of course I’ll want to share a house with him and have the same bedroom and when I get there the idea of living in adjacent apartments will be ridiculous. OK. That’s entirely likely. But from the outside, I kinda like the idea. First, I’d get to live upstairs in a north-facing fourplex with a balcony. And second, maybe it would be nice to have entirely different spaces. Maybe he doesn’t want to live in a brightly colored forest with no air conditioning. Maybe I don’t want to live in some boy-gadget haven with a TV. Maybe we’re old enough to like private time and independent spaces and sharing those spaces as well. Of course we can compromise, but maybe we would like adjacent apartments better than those trade-offs. I know that doesn’t work with kids. I know that it isn’t what a lot of couples want. I know that I can’t predict what I’ll want. But some part of me likes the idea, maybe as something to return to after the kids leave home.

*I will also add that I think that the twelfth picture is fucking UNJUSTIFIABLE, and my doubts about the editorial choices at Magnum are only increasing, especially their choices of images of women and girls. Their famous women/women athletes series were bullshit. Their mother/child series had some very lovely and touching shots. But I can’t see how that sexualized picture got into a series on children at play when there must be thousands of other pictures of children playing (in Asia, perhaps?) that could have offered additional insight into what children do during summer break. I think someone should be fired demoted to coffee bitch over that picture. Slate, why’d you host that crap?


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Of course, people don't want kids playing in their backyards for fear of getting sued.


4:16 PM  
Blogger alison said...

Don't really see the problem over #12. In 1977 everyone's skirts were short, knickers got shown all the time. I assume they got permission from wherever they got their pictures from, so that's fine by me. (And hey, there's a naked child in #16!)

In the same way that I don't let some vague, infinitesimal, hyped-up fear of abductors and paedophiles restrict my children's freedom, I don't want to see some vague hyped-up fear of child pr0nographers and paedophiles restrict publicly-accessible photography.

#12 is not pr0n, it's not prurient, it's just cute as hell.

I was more put out by #4 being apparently in Newcastle-upon-Tyre! That'd be TYNE :)

Anyway, I live in a "poor, ethnic" area, and if I only had my eldest two (10 and 9 yesterday (today still in some countries!)) I'd be seriously making them look like dorks if I still went with them to the park round here. I do go because I have a 6 and 4 year old too, but I often just let all 4 go together without me. (The road danger is minimal, and that worries me more.)

The eldest two go to the park, swimming, 1/2 mile to town to the bank/shops alone (together). The eldest three each go to the corner to the shop, or to post letters, alone.

5:07 PM  
Blogger Megan said...

I had no grief with the naked girl at the beach, or the first page where she is clearly spinning and playing. But those included a face and evidence of how the child was enjoying the play. I'm not at all freaked by kids playing in different levels of undress.

Shot twelve? No face to the little girl, pose where the underwear/bottom is visible and reminiscent of doggy style AND there is no reason to see her behind in that picture. None. Same picture in overalls? Adorable. Underwear and bottom in detail at the center of the shot, no other interaction with her face or joy in climbing around or playing on the structure? Salacious crap.

I don't think I have an ugly eye for those things, but I thought that interpretation of that shot was so overwhelming that including the shot was FUCKED UP. Given that there must have been other pictures informing us how kids play? Even more fucked up.

5:22 PM  
Blogger Megan said...

See, I'm so in favor of 10 and 9 (happy birthday) going to parks alone. I don't think it is done here in middle class urban neighborhoods anymore. I'd like to think I'd give my kids about those liberties at about that age, but I don't know any American kids who do.

Shoot. I was babysitting infants at 12.

5:25 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Does your experience with the community garden color your concept of a communal backyard? -K.

6:25 PM  
Blogger Megan said...

I think there'd be a lot more class homogeneity on a single block. But that's an excellent point. If my neighbors were as varied as co-gardeners, I would love my fence.

6:43 PM  
Anonymous Peter said...

Parental reluctance to let children outside unsupervised is in some respects a self-perpetuating phenomenon. Downward-spiralling, actually. Consider: by and large, parents are more likely to let their children go outside if the children will be in the company of peers. Safety in numbers and all that. What happens is as some, especially fearful parents keep their children inside, the "pool" of children to be found outside diminishes and other, less-fearful parents change their minds about letting their children outside. Of course, today's lower birth rates affect this too.

6:48 PM  
Blogger uneasy rhetoric said...

I lived in a west-facing upstairs fourplex with a giant balcony in Portland. Yes, sipping drinks upstairs is unparalleled.

Is the photo of one on O Street? That looks like one I've wondered about for a long time.

7:32 PM  
Blogger Trevor said...

Am I the only one thinking that adjacent apartments would be a great excuse for a drawbridge?

Maybe a Tarzan swinging rope.

I'm like, 12.

8:45 PM  
Blogger Marcus said...

Fourplexes are boring. They're too square. Your house is better.

You really should come by my place sometime before I go, just to see. I've underused it, blah blah blah, but there is a great upstairs balcony. Only problem is the mosquitoes, I have to get vector control in here.

I wandered everywhere when I was a kid, does that really not happen anymore? Of course, there was a little bit of mutual terrorism, early sex play, etc. among the wandering hordes of unsupervised kids. But the nascent moral sense kept it somewhat in check. All part of life's rich paegent, I guess.

10:21 PM  
Blogger Megan said...


A zip line, of course. And secret passages and secret knocks with codewords.

Uneasy Rhetoric:

Nope, I ganked it from an image search for Sacramento fourplexes. It is in East Sac somewhere. Which one on N St?

Also, Bryan at Midtown Grid wants to organize a Sac Blogger meet-up. I think that sounds great.

11:44 PM  
Blogger alison said...

Zip line would be great, but I'd like an Indiana Jones style rope and plank bridge. I don't want everyone underneath being able to see up my skirt - if I'm going to see my husband, I might not be wearing underwear ;-)

More space for each of us would be great - we talk about how 'when' we're rich (ha) we'll have a bedroom each.

1:50 AM  
Blogger guy said...

I'm sure I'm missing something, but why north-facing? In Europe that's the last thing you want since it hides you from the sun. Does south-facing get way too hot in the summer?

Also, are fourplexes an option in the Bay Area - if you're moving soon it seems like a great opportunity to try something new?

3:31 AM  
Anonymous Thelonious_Nick said...

"Second story so I can walk around naked and street level people can’t see me!"

I think this would probably operate on the same theory that allows Spider-Man to crawl around on the ceiling in office buildings without being seen.

7:11 AM  
Anonymous ptm said...

I'm purchasing a house adjacent to an old friend's place. He's already proposed this. We've both realized that if we combine our yards, we could play 4-on-4 disc or put in a small bike track.

8:30 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

underneath all is the kind of interesting [to me, anyway] interplay between lives and geography or place... It's amazing when you buy a house for a specific reason, that seems valid at the time, and then that decision guides your future decisions. I like that communal back yard idea, but I would guess it would take the right vibe in the community to make it work. I once had a small bungalow on a corner. It was in a town where you could still walk to the grocery, with a bit of a longer walk to the train. We knew pretty much everyone in the neighborhood, though mostly they were all retired+. They loved that we had moved in to their neighborhood with a kid on the way, because most young couples were moving OUT. It was actually a post WWII Sears house which was pretty cool. But then when we moved back to Denver metro, I got a laundry list of things my [ex]wife could no longer stand. Old houses. People who have their RV parked behind the house. Older Town, Older Schools. Nah, it all had to be new[ish]. I didn't see a reason to make a problem out of it, SO we got a nice souless house in a nice covenant controlled neighborhood. The downside is that while everyone waves, you don't really know your neighbors. When everyone gets home from work, they retreat, and lock all the doors. The area is fairly homogeneous, filled with families 10 years either side of 35... you would think that there would be a great sharing, with so much in common, but it isn't that way. It's far more about competition, about trying to one-up the Joneses. I have many theories as to why, but, yeah, who needs that? The one thing I will say, is that it is also MUCH more about transition. " I have THIS house, until I can afford a bigger one, in a fancier neighborhood..." With that you get a constant turnover in neighbors, and you never know what you will get next. When I go to pick up my kids on the weekends, I am constantly struck by which house is up for sale this time...

It could be that in some way, the like minded may congregate, attracted to a certain something about an area, and that's what makes the community yard possible. We have areas like that in old Littleton. Sadly as their owners age, and pass away, the houses are let go, because they are too old and too small for up and commers, and they seem to go run-down rental pretty quick. Perhaps everything is just cyclical enough so that the 20's of today will be willing to go there as a backlash against the ugly mcmansion suburban lifestyle... and maybe they'll find an old curmudgeon like me sitting on the veranda willing to teach them xeriascape, and photography...
/longwinded ...enough, I have some theories about the kids too, but as they say:
"When I was single I had 10 theories about raising children. Now I have 10 children and no theories..."


9:18 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I have seen unsupervised sub teen children riding San Francisco public transportation. That number is dwarfed by the number of teens. I know couple of 8 or 9 year olds who came by themselves to Presidio native habitat restoration programs although their parents must have signed appropriate paperwork before hand.

I was asked by a neighbor to go bike riding with her 16 year old daughter because she was afraid of the trails she was taking. She wins my overly protective mother award.

If you can’t let the children loose in the streets then adventure playground looks to be the next best thing.


11:34 AM  
Blogger Megan said...

I like hearing stories of kids out by themselves. It reinforces my views that kids are very capable.

11:43 AM  
Anonymous D said...

ah, that was what was clinking around my brain... it's the logical extreme and the parent. Since we know it is POSSIBLE that a bad thing might happen to a child, we are driven to respond as if it WILL. I think it's just worry, and the inability to figure out what a high probability risk is, from a low one.

The catch is... what was it in our parents experience that allowed them to think the risk acceptable? I walked a bit over a mile to school in first grade, crossing several high traffic streets. AND I was a latch-key kid, and it was perfectly acceptable, ie. "The Norm". I think we have made our children weak, by robbing them their independence. Perhaps for the VERY REASON that we don't see a down side to overprotection...

kids are surprisingly capable, which parents would remember about themselves at an age, if they were willing to look at a situation as: "I did pretty well fixing my bike so I could get home" rather than "I'm not sure how I made it through that alive..." Which I have heard on a number of occasions from adults...

12:40 PM  
Blogger Uneasy Rhetoric said...

I'm always interested in going to a blogger meetup if I can get out of the house and if there's enough interest. Keep me posted!

Hm. Now I'm going to knock my brains out trying to figure out where that plex is. I could have sworn it was the one on 22nd and O. On the other hand, it also looks like one around 35th and J.

12:51 PM  
Blogger Megan said...

Between J and K on 33rd St.

12:54 PM  
Anonymous Ennis said...

Since when were you bashful about nakedness?

Also, out of curiousity, how much running around alone were you allowed to do growing up? I had the run of NYC public transit, but only going to school and home. There were many things I wasn't allowed to do alone or without an adult, but that was because NYC was very unsafe back then, and some of my peers had gotten beaten up and their bikes stolen, etc.

2:46 PM  
Anonymous lw said...

I agree about the new overprotectiveness being a shame; I have a 6-year old. Possibly it's a consequence of decreased family size.
Also, kids differ a lot in their personalities; my kid's not a daredevil stunt jumper, being overprotective would seem a lot more reasonable if he was.

2:52 PM  
Blogger alison said...

d, I completely agree. Lots of people just don't seem to have the ability to do fairly basic risk assessments. The friend I mentioned a while back who is scared of everything has car seats for her 4 young children that are barely within the law, and certainly (imo) offer no protection to them in case of accidents. The fact that a car accident is about a million times more likely to happen to them than a lightning strike or terrorist attack does not seem to sink in.

My eldest (10) has always been extremely independent, and she's dragged the others along in her wake to her certain extent I guess. But also, a 4 year old with 3 older siblings is pretty different to a 4 year old who's an only or eldest child. In many many ways she'll always be the baby of the family, lol, but she's expected to behave in the street etc. (I sometimes have a friend's 3 year old and she's a bloody nightmare in the street! There's no way I'd let my 10 year old be in charge of her and I can't imagine that's going to change in a year.)

I was going to school by myself from about 8 (10 minute train journey). I was going out to the park or local shops from the same age. We lived in suburban London, and from about 11 I was travelling about suburbia and from about 12 going up to the centre of London and also going on the train with my younger brother to relatives a couple of hours away.

But I've got a 17 year old (foster) brother, and he and his friends seem far more dependent - more of them drive/have cars and he hates to go out if he can't get a lift (my mum doesn't give him lifts any more, he asks his friends). My parents did actually have a car whilst I was growing up (my mum passed her test just after I did) and we just got ourselves about. My brother and I laugh at him.

3:44 PM  
Anonymous doctorpat said...

Of course the best thing about facing seperate 2nd floor apartments, is that when you walk around naked, one special person CAN see in...

My wife and I have separate bedrooms, but I only use mine if I want to get to sleep early and she wants to brush her hair for an hour or some girly thing.

And that #12 photo? I think you've spent too much time in the unsavoury parts of the internet if you think that is at all suggestive.

9:09 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

As to letting kids out, it depends. My wife and I have three kids, youngest now 18. Fear is strong when it is your own flesh and blood, no matter the statistics. When male family members have sexually assaulted multiple female members of your extended family, you think about your daughter waiting on the corner for the bus at 6:45 a.m. in the dark and become terrified of her being plucked off the corner by him or someone similar to him. It's not logical but it is there. You remember when you were young, having no supervision (it was like they did not care) so that you ended up drunk or stoned and out-and-about at age 12. And you don't want your kids to experience that. Ours have been book worms, so they tend to stay inside anyway.

But then, in the right neighborhood (on a cul-de-sac, with no through traffic), our kids played out front all the time because other kids did. So, I agree with the previous comments as far as it depending on who else was out. We were not in a poor neighborhood, but most moms were home all day to watch.

Also, many kids are doing something (soccer, baseball, football, basketball, piano lessons, etc.) after school. Who can stay home and play in the front yard with that schedule?

As to opening your yard to the yards of neighbors, there are plenty of places where that happens with no fences, but sharing a fenced-in yard would be more unusual. Myself, I would want my back yard to my own house since we have dogs, cats, and a swimming pool.

Anonymous for obvious reasons.

2:01 PM  
Anonymous joeo said...

This is a very good book on the differences between middle class and lower class childhoods:

My second grader and my first grader are going to walk to school next year. People are scandalized.

I don't get the complaints about the playgrounds. The ones my kids use are better than the ones I used as a kid, but I may have just moved to an area with better playgrounds.

2:07 PM  
Blogger alison said...

"Fear is strong when it is your own flesh and blood, no matter the statistics."

Ah well, perhaps I'm just a cold-hearted mathematician. And I've never been a worrier either.

Like you said about "male family members" - my kids are at FAR greater risk from people they know - or from cars, for that matter - than random strangers.

I think people find it far easier to fixate on the teeny tiny risks because they can do something about them (like not letting their kids out alone until 14 - that figure from a recent British survey ) and feel like they're keeping some sort of control. But they're in severe denial about RTAs and other huge (in comparison to paedophile abductors) risks because there's relatively little they can do in that respect - it's just considered to be life and unavoidable.

It's probably more dangerous for one's kids to be driven to afterschool activities every day than to let them hang out alone in the park!

(And in breaking news from the Portico household, the newly-9 year old and the 6 year old went to the park alone yesterday.)

2:32 PM  
Anonymous Ennis said...

I've actually seen houses without fenced in back yards, but surprisingly enough only with McMansion developments. I think you're less likely to see it in new urbanist enclaves or in traditional urbanist ones.

8:54 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Just saw a relevant article - apparently they are having the same problem in the UK with children being prisoners in their own home. I think lots of people feel this way, but neighborhoods are more transient and it is harder to luck into a situation where the other kids in the neighborhood are allowed out as well.


4:38 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

4:39 AM  

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