What do Children Need from Community? Social Life, Health & the Built Environment

Suzanne H. Crowhurst Lennard, Portland, OR

ABSTRACT: Human beings are social creatures. Our physical and mental health are strongly influenced by the quality and quantity of our social interaction. With insufficient or inadequate social interaction we languish and sicken. This is particularly true for children and older people. Moreover, all aspects of a child’s development – physical, cognitive, social and spiritual – are affected by the social contexts within which this learning is embedded. The social skills learned by children and youth continue to shape their ability to achieve success and well-being later in life.

The built environment of our sprawling suburbs and dangerous inner city neighborhoods creates settings that discourage positive social interaction to such a degree that children are growing up more isolated and with more dysfunctional social contacts than ever before. We are endangering our children’s ability to learn, to be healthy, and to make a positive contribution to society. It is essential that we act now to reshape our suburbs and inner city neighborhoods so that they facilitate positive social life, social learning, and social well-being.

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