11 year old boys make a neighborhood

In the January 2012 issue of The Believer, there is an interview with cartographer Denis Wood, who created Everything Sings, a representation of Boylan Heights, NC, where he lives and raised his children. The maps are not typical maps, instead they depict, according to the article (I don’t have this book, though I’m ordering it!) “the light that fills the streets, the delivery routes of local newspapers, the face of pumpkins in front of homes at Halloween”, among others. Wood says:

I wanted to think about what a neighborhood is. What makes a neighborhood a neighborhood? What are the characteristics of neighborhoodness? There’s a theorist named Leonard Bowden who had the idea that neighborhoods are created by eleven-year-old preadolescent males. In their running through the neighborhood and connecting families together, crossing fences, going into homes that their parents would go into, and knowing people that their parents would never even acknowledge, they create the neighborhood. Not girls, because girls were not given the privilege of ranging like the boys were, and not older boys, because they were being directed by the school toward classmates at a distance.

Author: Caterina Fake

Literature, Art, Poetry, Homeschooling Mother. Founder & CEO, Findery. Co-founder, Flickr & Hunch.

9 thoughts on “11 year old boys make a neighborhood”

  1. What a strange coincidence that you wrote this just now. Last evening I was sitting on my porch enjoying a cigar and was presented with the opportunity to observe a boy and two girls–each about 12 years old–playing outside and thought how much I enjoyed seeing such play because it reminds me of my childhood neighborhood. I have always felt that children outside playing is what makes a neighborhood.


    1. My childhood was also spent outside playing. Someone told me recently of a diagram that was in Wired of the various areas in which a Grandfather, Father and Son were able to roam freely as 9-year-olds. The Grandfather’s area was about 100 square miles, the Father’s about 10 blocks, and the son’s the space only of his own backyard.

      If anyone can point me to this article, I’d be grateful!


  2. Thanks for the link to the Daily Mail article. Fascinating.

    When I was six, seven and eight years old, my “free to roam” zone was probably about 20 square blocks. I walked or bike to school (including kindergarten at age 5) which was about a mile or so away.

    I’m sure that my daughter’s free to roam zone will be smaller and that saddens me.

    I can also say that she has seen much more of the world than I did at her age (now 5). She’s vacationed in Florida, Washington and Oregon. She has more air miles than I did in my late 20s. She has visited Chinatowns in several urban areas, has seen world class art and music, and experienced camping, stargazing (the transit of Venus was cool for her), and the outdoors much more than I did.

    My wife has made it her mission to give our daughter as much “play” opportunities as possible. (A great inspiration is here: http://playborhood.com/ ) We’re trying to create a “community of play” where we live. It’s odd that we have to, but that seems too be the cost of all of the other cool stuff we get to do together.


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