The Negative Impact of Suburban Design on Children’s Social and Intellectual Growth

Suburban design is keeping kids indoors as there’s nowhere to go and no safe way to get there.

The design of American suburbs, heavily reliant on cars, is increasingly being scrutinized for its negative impact on children’s social and intellectual growth. The lack of accessible, kid-friendly destinations and safe neighborhoods forces today’s youth to spend more time indoors, missing out on vital social interactions and experiences. “The average American will spend over six months of their life behind a traffic light,” a stark reminder of our car-dependent lifestyle that limits the freedom and mobility of younger generations who can’t drive​.

In 1983, 46.2 percent of 16-year-olds were licensed, compared to 25.1 percent in 2020.

In contrast to this car-centric design, the concept of “third places” as described by Ray Oldenburg emphasizes the need for communal spaces where people can meet and interact. Unfortunately, many American suburbs lack these essential social hubs. “Our lack of a driver’s license didn’t hold us back,” reminisces a high school senior comparing life in the U.S. with their earlier years in England, where the proximity of parks and corner shops fostered easy socialization. This highlights the urgent need for a shift towards mixed-use zoning in suburbs, creating inclusive communities with amenities within walking distance, and enhancing the quality of life for all, especially our children​​.

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