Commentary

The Shame and Blame Game

Instead of critiquing a father's decision to let his kids use public transit, we should be talking about the critical importance of public space and social connectedness.

By Maureen Wilson
Published September 07, 2017

At least once a year, social media erupts in outrage over the parenting choice exercised by some unsuspecting mom or dad living in some city or town from somewhere in Canada. To be sure, the issue is typically one that seizes the hearts and minds of the privileged.

Take today's latest outrage. Some dad in B.C. has been reprimanded for allowing his kids to ride public transit without parental supervision. The horror.

Nothing unites us more or brings forward a torrent of disgust and call to arms than parenting choices exercised or curtailed by some mom or dad. Not the absence of clean potable water for Indigenous Peoples, the lack of affordable housing for kids, not the threat of nuclear annihilation because of two mad men at the helm, not the rising temperatures of our oceans and lands.

Women have known this for a long time.

Maternal health, Isolation, loneliness, sleep deprivation, freedom to choose or no freedom at all, economic vulnerability, the absence of equal pay for equal work, parental leave or lack there, the absence of affordable, quality, licensed early childhood education - these real issues are squeezed out by a chorus of voices that would rather sing in shame and blame.

And of course, the incident in B.C. always brings with it a spike in nostalgia.

"I walked to school. Two miles. There and back. Often balancing on one leg when I was their age."

"Helicopter parents are ruining lives and futures. I had the run of the neighbourhood when I was a kid. And married with a full time job by the time I was 23!"

You get the picture. But what a missed opportunity to have real conversations about the real issues that usually underpin all these stories.

A missed opportunity to talk about how we have built inactivity into our city's urban form.

A missed opportunity to talk about the critical importance of social connectedness and how we have crushed it out of our neighbourhoods with speedways, no sidewalks, poorly-designed public spaces or no public spaces at all, and homogeneous income-based neighbourhoods with fences fronting our streets.

Or a generation or two of citizens that lack access to good, reliable and efficient public transit or no transit at all. And, as a result, transit is foreign and scary and not perceived as a public space and a public asset for any and all ages.

Let's use these incidents to highlight the real issues and use these moments as opportunities to rebuild cities, spaces and services that work for all citizens of all incomes, abilities and ages.

Maureen Wilson is a member of The Useful Knowledge Society of Hamilton.

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By mdrejhon (registered) - website | Posted September 07, 2017 at 13:33:05

The kids/parent also has a urban-living website called "5 kids 1 condo":

http://5kids1condo.com/very-superstitiou...

There's also a very interesting CTV news article here:

http://www.ctvnews.ca/canada/single-dad-...

His $15K crowdfund legal challenge ("Let Responsible Kids Take Transit") exceeded goal in just one day, at $25K now.

https://www.gofundme.com/Let-Responsible...

Even as a deafie I walked to school in the 1980s at age 8 and took the the bus alone at age 10. With no smartphone nor GPS tracker in those days. And apparently, me with a little bit less training than this dad very studiously gave his kids.

I learned something new today: Fewer crimes occur on a bus than during walking on a sidewalk -- apparently letting your kids take the public transit bus is more responsible than letting your kids walk a few blocks to school? That's what the statistics are saying.

Many things feel even safer today with lower crime rates in his area, and more easily trackable (phones, GPS, etc). But proliferation of easy rapid fire news understandably feels make bigger volumes of scarier news that make many of us think despite the actual statistics.

Even New York City legally lets 8 year olds ride public transit alone, unaccompanied (And Mayor Bloomberg gave out free Metrocards to these kids during the schoolbus strike!). And Japan allows it at 6 years old -- Grade 1 commutes solo in Japan thanks to their low crime rates -- even on hourlong journies. But, New. York. City.

Some kids are more responsible than others, and there appears to be many 7 year olds much more well-behaved than less-responsible 12 year olds. The threshold of arbitrary age numbers for solo travel (pedestrian or public transit) is a very tough debate that go polarized. We could power the world's electricity demand from the steam power, heat & spin in all the news comments sections alone that I am seeing about this subject. Debate can easily go on forever, but I hope new legal precedent can be set to help clarify things.

I miss the good old days when walking to school was a simpler uncontentious decision -- that was common even in the 1980s where I lived.

Comment edited by mdrejhon on 2017-09-07 13:48:45

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