The right to roam

A member of one of my mailing lists recently posted a link to a story at the Daily Mail called How children lost the right to roam in four generations. It looks at four generations of a family in Sheffield and examined how far from home children of each generation were able to wander from home unaccompanied. The great-grandfather was allowed to walk six miles to the local fishing hole at the age of eight, while his eight year old great-grandson is now only allowed to roam within a 300-yard radius.

The gradual erosion of kids’ freedom is so universally accepted that it’s not really news. But what makes the Daily Mail article so compelling is the graphic that accompanies the story: it overlays a map with the roaming area of the four eight-year-olds, showing how dramatically children’s worlds have been shrinking.

With that in mind, I’ve taken a Google map satellite image of my old neighbourhood in East York and overlaid my own roaming area as an eight-year-old in the late ’70s. The result is the graphic below.
My roaming limits as an 8-year-old

The farthest from my home that I was allowed to venture alone was a little over 500 metres. But within that 500 metres were two playgrounds, a school yard, a swimming pool, a wading pool, a library, numerous stores, a restaurant, a haunted house (or so we imagined), and most of my friends.

Venturing farther afield or crossing any of the local main streets required being accompanied by an older friend or family member. We moved to Scarborough the next year, where my authorized roaming radius increased to well over a kilometre; my unauthorized radius, previewing the explorer I would eventually become, was larger still. When we moved back to East York three years after that, my catchment area expanded to virtually anywhere the TTC, my bike, and my twelve-year-old feet could take me.

How far were you allowed to wander as an eight-year-old?

2 Replies to “The right to roam”

  1. As an eight year-old I lived in Stoney Creek (now part of Hamilton). We were basically allowed to play on our street, on our property, and over at any of our neighbouring friends’ houses. It wasn’t a big deal to go around the corner and down the block to our school ground, or up into the woods along the escarpment to play on the Bruce Trail or in the creeks up there (though we also played on the train tracks, a big no-no!).

    We would sometimes take our bikes and ride them up to about 5km away, zig-zagging through all kinds of side street, orchards, and trails. This was much further than we were allowed to go, for sure! We were careful and knew what we were doing though.

    Good times.

  2. By 8 (early 80s), i seem to remember being given a fair bit of latitude – much of my hometown seemed to be OK. On visits to my grandmother in Leaside, I recall wandering byself in an area bounded by Bayview/CNIB/Eglinton/Brentcliffe.

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