Where are the children?

In the early 1970’s Cat Stevens wrote and sang ‘Where do the children play?‘ In the song he looked at the issue of how urbanization and technological advances where encroaching on the natural environment (more particularly, on how parks and natural settings where being abused for technological and commercial gain):

Well you roll on roads over fresh green grass.
For your lorryloads pumping petrol gas.
And you make them long, and you make them tough.
But they just go on and on, and it seems you can’t get off.

Oh, I know we’ve come a long way,
We’re changing day to day,
But tell me, where do the children play?

Humfrey waiting for his walk

I take Humfrey for a walk every second day. We make our way through a park. Every time I walk through the park I am struck by the decay and the fact that no children are around to breathe life and joy into the place. I feel the neglect, decay and lifelessness of a place that should be filled with the laughter and joy of children playing.

The municipal park, George Lea, Sandton

I was telling my friend, Giaco Angelini, who is a film director, about my feelings when I walk through this park. I showed him the photograph of the park. As our conversation unfolded, we spoke of how photographs should reflect mood and emotions.

The park also has a special place in my heart, as it was in this park that my sons once had the pleasure of enjoying the freedom and laughter of play many years ago. I can clearly recall how I pushed them on the swings, collected them at the bottom of a very high slide, and played ‘hide and seek’ in the maze.

A story can be captured by a photograph. As Giaco and I shared ideas about photography, emotions and societal issues it became obvious that the above photograph needed to be edited to convey my true feelings about the park. Giaco helped me re-edit the photograph. I decided to desaturate the colour and add more grain. I added the negative space that exists next to the swings (I had originally cropped the photograph just to depict the swings and litter). As I edited the photograph, a new message was emerging. The changes helped to depict the feeling of decay; lifelessness and abandonment that I experience each time I walk through the park.

Where are the children?

Cat Stevens sang about urban encroachment. The park at George Lea is a reflection of urban decay and neglect. If only there was a little more care taken of our environment. Decay and neglect of places, where our children used to frequent, escalates further issues. If there is no place to play; where do our children go? What will they get up to? Nurturing our children in an ecological way requires us to be role models in our own behaviour. This neglect is an adult issue. It is a reflection of how our governmental and municipal systems are fragmenting. So what will happen to our children?

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4 thoughts on “Where are the children?

  1. Justin

    Very sad, I have similar memories of spending wonderful days there with my Dad, and the scrapped knees and bumps that went with hard but good play.

    Kids today are probably behind high walls, playing with their Play-stations, iPads and DSI’s.

    I was wondering if it wasn’t an oppertunity for a corporate to partner with Joburg Parks and rehabilite the facility?

  2. Ken Jennings

    I like your image of ‘scraped knees and bumps that went with hard but good play’. I do feel that children need to be physically active to ‘toughen up’.

    There is so much digital entertainment available to a child (and it is growing exponentially). Given this, it is almost impossible to stop children being ‘connected’ digitally (we are living in the information age). However, a parent needs to balance this with good old fashioned physical play with peers (climbing, swinging, sliding, running, jumping).

    I like your suggestion about trying to get some corporate to partner Joburg parks. My feeling is that the decay and neglect may not be a financial issue; but rather a care, effort and priority issue in some bureaucratic, municipal office. Given this, maybe the community around the park needs to get activated and in some way help restore the park – maybe community members giving of their time and effort to pull out the weeds and pick up the litter.

    The other issue that I did not mention was that of vagrants and loitering adults in the park. While I do not feel that they impose a physical threat, it does not feel emotionally safe (and children friendly) to be in the vicinity. So, hence the ‘no children’ and desolation of the park.

    No easy answers. Let’s see what unfolds.

  3. Peter Loudon

    I think the success of a community driven effort to rejuvenate spaces like this and make them accessible to the children will require that parents come out from behind their electronic gadgets and busy working lives and go to those spaces with their children (to push the swings, pick up the pieces when knees are scraped, and generally be a counter-balance to the vagrants and loiterers).

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