Changing Communities, Changing Childhoods: Playing, Living and Learning in New York City from the 1940s - 2000s




Wridt, Pamela

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The Grosvenor Center for Geographic Education


Over the last century enormous changes have occurred within the social, economic and cultural fabric of urban communities in the United States. For instance, changes in the economy and family structure have lead to a dramatic increase in the demand for after-school programs, particularly for low-income children. The invention of television and other digital mediums of entertainment have lured many children off the streets and into their homes for playtime activities, contributing to the absence of children in public space. In New York City, social and economic challenges such as the race riots of the 1960s, increased drug trafficking in neighborhood parks in the 1980s, globalization and the polarization of rich and poor in the 1990s, and an increasing degree of police surveillance resulting from terrorism in the 2000s have all created different contexts for living and learning. However, these changes are not well documented in terms of their impact on the meaning and spatial experience of childhood. The goal of this research is to describe and analyze the differing social and environmental contexts of child development in New York City from the 1940s to the present. More specifically, this research will compare the childhood experiences of individuals who grew up in and around a public housing development amid the communities of Yorkville and East Harlem. The focus of the investigation is the period of middle childhood (roughly the period of childhood between ages 11 and 13), a time when most children are able to actively and autonomously explore their communities. The emphasis of the research is on changes in children’s geographies, or how children use, think about, and make sense of space in their everyday life. Such knowledge will help educators understand more broadly the context of child development and informal geographic learning, and will help facilitate planning and community development to address children’s unique environmental and social needs.



child development, urban communities, globalization, polarization


Wridt, P. J. (2001). Changing communities, changing childhoods: Playing, living and learning in New York City from the 1940s - 2000s. Research in Geographic Education, 3(1), pp. 113-117.


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