The Boundaries of Home for Kids



“Where do you feel your home extends to?”

This is the question David Appleyard asked residents of three streets in San Francisco in the early 1950s in his book, Livable Streets. The diagram above shows the outlines that residents of a light-traffic street drew. Below, you’ll find the same diagram for residents of a heavy-traffic street.


The difference is startling. Many residents of the light-traffic street feel that their “home boundary” is the entire block. Meanwhile, residents of the heavy-traffic street all perceive this home boundary to be limited to their building or their apartment. One commented, “Just my apartment, not even that.”

Most people today would agree with the heavy-traffic folks. They would say, “Our home is limited to whatever’s inside our house’s walls.”

I realized recently, though, that, at least in the minds of our older two boys (5-1/2 and 2-1/2), our home extends well beyond the walls of our house. See the figure below.image

Our house is as shown, but our boys freely and regularly roam well beyond its walls. Their natural border even extends beyond our yard. They frequent all front yards of the properties two to our left and right, plus the sidewalks and part of the street in front of all these properties, plus the entire house and back yard to our left (they frequently run in and out of there), plus two back yards behind us.

“Home” for my boys is a place well beyond our house that they feel comfortable in. They feel an attachment to every corner of the area I circled. They’re always surrounded here by people they know and like and trust.

As they grow up, I hope and expect that these borders will grow much further.

Would you circle an area well beyond the walls of your home for your child? If not, do you wish you could? Why your boundaries for your kids as big as you’d like?

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5 Responses to The Boundaries of Home for Kids

  1. Games We Played says:

    We were fortunate enough to live in a quiet neighborhood with a number of safe, low-traffic, interconnecting streets (great for cops and robbers on bikes!). We played touch football, stickball, kick the can, base runners and street hockey in front of our house on Lockwood Drive. For basketball or H-O-R-S-E, we either played on the dirt court in our backyard or on the O’Driscoll’s cement court behind their house. We built forts and had numerous adventures in the Annsville woods across from our house. It was an idyllic environment for children growing up in the 1970s and 80s.

    You can see a map of my childhood playground at

    Tag! You’re it!


  2. mfontaine says:

    I had much the same experience as Tom. Our home was situated on a culdesac adjacent to another culdesac — and we roamed those two streets freely, feeling safe. We played kickball, rode our bikes, built forts in the woods. And all the neighbors watched out for each other’s kids. It was wonderful!


  3. Laura says:

    We’re very lucky, here in Bangalore, India. We live in a gated community with only 24 townhouses and a few apartments. We have a single “street” running between the townhouses, with 12 on each side.

    On each holiday, one family takes responsibility to throw a party to which everyone is invited. During Holi, the festival of colours, we throw coloured water on each other, and dance in the street. During Diwali, we light fireworks. Thanksgiving is our responsibility, and we celebrate with an open house for 50 – 60 people.

    Now, during our summer, we have regular, impromptu pool parties every Saturday and Sunday late afternoons. And every afternoon is punctuated by kids running, biking, skate-boarding up and down, all around.

    I joke that when Zoe, my four-year-old, was just learning to walk, she took “open door policy” to mean that if the door is open…you should walk in. It’s idyllic. Who knew I would find this kind of community, 10000 miles from “home”, in India?

  4. Mike Lanza says:

    Hey, Laura! You’re very fortunate to live where you do. It sounds wonderful. I’ve read through a couple of studies of gated communities in the US. My favorite is Behind the Gates by Setha Low. These studies are pretty darned critical of them. In general, it seems that they do not engender any more community activity than do comparable communities that aren’t gated. In fact, Fortress America by Edward James Blakely claims they result in less community activity. Perhaps gates are more necessary in a place like India since poverty is so much more harsh there.

  5. Laura says:

    Hi Mike –

    Gated Communities.

    When I lived in the US, I didn’t like them. But I have found that India and the US are not comparable – here, especially on the outskirts of cities, even major metros, if you want to live in a townhouse or house instead of an apartment, it makes sense for a group of owners to put together a “community”, or for the builder to do it for you.

    Why? Because here we have to organize our own power (there’s no from the grid 30 – 40% of the time), water (have to purchase it in tankers and have it put in a large underground tank from which we draw), garbage collection…even policing. Basically all the services you take for granted from your municipality.

    But at least we, as middle class, can afford to organize these services for ourselves. Definitely working for the day when all citizens have access to resources!

    Speaking of which — could you guys in the US please use a little less? thanks! 🙂