Mike Lanza and Charles Marohn. Photo by Steven.
Earlier this week New York-based livable streets activist Mark Gorton invited sustainable transportation leaders from around the country to Chicago for a discussion of ways to encourage the development of walkable, bikeable, transit-friendly communities across the nation. Gorton’s new campaign is tentatively called the American Streets Renaissance.
Dani Simons, director of the campaign, invited Steven and me to drop by after the meeting at the SRAM headquarters to interview two of the participants. Charles Marohn is executive director of Strong Towns, a nonprofit that promotes sustainable, fiscally responsible communities. Mike Lanza, author of the book Playborhood: Turn Your Neighborhood Into a Place for Play (buy on Amazon), advocates for public spaces that allow children to play and move about independently, fostering self-reliance.
John: Mike tell us about your book and the other projects you’re working on.
Mike: Sure. I write a blog and I’ve written a book about children and neighborhoods and play, the central idea being that children should be empowered by their parents and by their communities to be outside in their neighborhoods and to learn how to be independent. It’s something that used to be obvious to people a few generations ago but today it’s very uncommon for children to have independent lives on their own in their neighborhoods. In my mind, the immediate neighborhood right outside their front door, that means their yard, their block, is the foundation to having independent mobility, to being able to ride their bike to school, to walk to school and go to retail stores.
And so I write about other communities outside of my own that have done some very innovative things. I also write a lot about what I’ve done and my own personal journey and trying to make what I call a “playborhood,” a neighborhood of play for kids in my community. One important part of it is making a third place if you will, a neighborhood hangout for kids right where they live. It’s something that has left American life. We used to have places where we could just show up and see people we know, like the Cheers bar. As a kid, I had a street right next to my house where we used to play ball all the time. So having one place to go where you can feel that there’s a pretty decent probability there will be other kids, there’s something to do, there’s a place where you can just show up and hang out with people, is really important.