My Square Mile

Contributed by Michael David Cobb Bowen, the political & cultural blogger ‘Cobb‘. He brings up the timely topic of youth getting outdoors, through a personal reflection of play as a child in Southern California.
Spence asks a critical question about our trust in society. How far could you roam as a kid? I was surprised to discover that although I felt like I had a virtual infinity by the time I went to high school, before I was 14 years old it was basically one square mile.

This little grid from Google maps is where I grew up. LA 90016. We had pretty much everything we wanted in that square. Football, basketball, swimming, box tag, skateboarding, fruit tree raids, capture the flag, chicken, ditch, hide and go get it, drag out and dozens of other ghetto games that kept our attention. By the time I was 14, I took the bus to Venice Beach (9 miles) or to Hollywood Roller Rink (7 miles).
But during that childhood, we took a whole lot of trips up to the Angeles National Forest and we took a lot of neighborhood kids too. So there was an interesting sense of mobility in that.

In fact, as I think of it, a great deal of my own mobility and comfort with that came from camping. I can’t think of any other black kids or families that spent much time in the Army surplus stores for trips up the Angeles Crest. But it seemed like we were up in them hills every weekend ever summer and at least once every snow. We would bring back snow to the ‘hood and have snowball fights right in our front yard. Then we would go to summer camp with the Crenshaw Y at Big Bear and with the Episcopal Church down in San Diego County near the town of Julian.
My kids get a mix of travel and activity. But we just don’t turn them loose in the streets. I will always lament the loss of improvisation today’s kids have because of their lack of unsupervised pickup game protocols. But they have other things we couldn’t imagine, like online friends in game networks. It’s a different world, but not necessarily worse.