For Teens, No Room in the Pandemic City
When you were a teenager, where did you go to hang out with friends? For many of us, the first places we think of are school (and school activities), the mall, arcades and movie theaters, parks, rec centers, restaurants, and coffee shops.
There’s a good chance that whatever came to mind for you just now isn’t currently available to teenagers. Only 35% of K-12 students are daily attending school in-person. Education has moved online and school activities are canceled. Many malls, arcades, restaurants, theaters, and rec centers are closed altogether, have strict occupancy limits, or are open by appointment only. The parks may be open but many towns and cities conspire against groups of teenagers lingering too long in parks, paranoid they are up to no good. It’s been said that cities are built with an “anti-teen bias.” As a result, communities that offered few options for teenagers before the pandemic have even fewer options today.
This is more than mere inconvenience for teens and their families, as Amy Crawford describes in a recent article in CityLab. “Eight months into the pandemic,” Crawford writes, “life under coronavirus restrictions has proven especially hard on teens, who, despite being at lower risk from the virus itself, have fewer opportunities to be with their peers than perhaps any other demographic.“ Crawford quotes Tamar Mendelson, director of the Center for Adolescent Health at Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health:
Isolation is a big issue for young people right now...Adolescence is a time of incredible growth and development. A big piece of that is developing more of a social identity, and that’s getting disrupted a lot during Covid. Young people are resilient, and they’re adept at technology, but it’s a hard adjustment.
Crawford’s article is the inspiration for this week’s episode of Upzoned, with host Abby Kinney, an urban planner in Kansas City, and regular co-host Chuck Marohn, the founder and president of Strong Towns. Abby and Chuck discuss the challenges facing teens in cities largely not built with them in mind, the impacts of social isolation on adolescents, and why we, as a culture, must not overlook the deep effect the pandemic is having on teenagers. This isn’t merely an academic discussion, as Chuck describes the sacrifices his own teenage children have been asked to make during the pandemic.
Then in the Downzone, Chuck talks about his annual ritual of listening to novels while baking Christmas cookies. And Abby recommends a book that was recommended to her by Joe Minicozzi of Urban3: Misbehaving: The Making of Behavioral Economics, by Richard Thaler.
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