On Birch Road, one elderly resident arrives at the barrier in his dial-a-ride minibus. The stewards know already that he refuses to be delivered to his door. He likes to show his support for the project by walking the last few meters. On Alice and Amy’s road, a local ice cream van owner arrived at the barrier to offer free ice-cream for the children. Irate motorists, annoyed at the inconvenience of diversion, are in a small minority. Instead the project seems to chime with many people who feel perhaps that something has been lost in a world where children rarely take priority over cars.
Concern that childhood is being eroded by lack of time outdoors is clearly simmering.
In April, a book published in the US began to make waves on parenting Web sites. Playborhood, by Mike Lanza, describes his quest to make his immediate neighborhood, in suburban California, a safe playground for his three sons. In New York, Skenazy has turned her experiences into a plea for change on her Web site, Free Range Kids. And in Britain, the National Trust caused a media storm in March when it reported that British children were suffering from Nature Deficit Disorder (a catchy phrase first coined by writer Richard Louv in 2005).
Alice and Amy say their children have developed and grown in fitness, confidence and resourcefulness, and have had the opportunity to make friends and get to know neighbors they might otherwise never have met.
“This is just the beginning though,” Amy said. “We want to start a conversation. I don’t only want my children to be able to play out between 3pm and 5pm on a Monday.”
Doing something is a responsibility and, she said, it is urgent: “We are the generation that actually remembers this free-range play. People under 30 don’t necessarily have that. The danger is that without those memories, we don’t realize what we stand to lose. It could be now or never.”