It Takes a Street to Raise Jacob

Jacob rolled on his scooter alongside Andrew. He climbed on to a chair to watch other kids play a board game. He grabbed a cup of water and drank it. He walked over to a woman and got a hug. He hopped on his scooter again.

This went on for a couple of hours.

“Is anyone watching Jacob?” I asked Hetty Fox, matriarch of the Lyman Place play street.

“Uh,” she scanned around for a moment. “No, not right now. But his cousin Andrew is right there, and everyone else here knows him, too. Besides, he has lots of aunts and uncles and cousins who live right here on the street, as well as his grandmother and grandfather. In fact, his great-grandmother lives here, too.”

How old would you guess Jacob is from hearing about this situation? I’ll give you a hint: parents often refer to his age as the “terrible” age.

Yes, Jacob is two – just barely two. His second birthday was just a few days ago.Do you feel sorry for Jacob? Don’t even think about it, not for a moment.

His mother, Ladavia Topping, showed up shortly after I asked about him, hugging him. He certainly appreciated the hug, but he showed no hint of missing her or resenting her for leaving him behind while she went to work. He went right back to playing.

Jacob is very self-assured for a two-year-old. (I know two-year olds quite well. As a matter of fact, I have a wonderful two-and-a-half year-old at home right now.) He’s quite friendly. His gross motor skills are very well-developed, if his prowess on a scooter is any indication. He’s emotionally well-adjusted. I saw no hint of crying or selfishness or attention-grabbing from him.

In short, for the entire time I observed Jacob, which was at least three hours, he was happy, engaged, and totally well-behaved. He’s a remarkable little boy.

Jacob’s immediate neighborhood deserves a lot of credit for him. For his whole life, he’s been surrounded on his one-block street, Lyman Place in the South Bronx, NY, by family and other people who care about him. Furthermore, every weekday in the summer, his street becomes a “play street,” shut off from car traffic, thanks to longtime resident Hetty Fox. Residents wander up and down the street without a care in the world, comfortable and safe. Tweens and teens shoot hoops, toddlers and elementary school-aged kids ride scooters and bikes and kick a soccer ball, and adults sit in chairs and chat.

Fox has been running the play street there for 34 consecutive years. In fact, Jacob’s mother Ladavia played there when she was a child.

The area surrounding Lyman Place, the South Bronx, is one of the poorest in the United States. It was so desperate there in the 1970s that 40% of all residences were burned down in an arson epidemic. The arson wave has since subsided, but crime, drug use, and unemployment remain stubbornly high there today.

Thus, the South Bronx would seem like a horrible place for a kid to grow up. You wouldn’t say that, though, if you spent some time at Lyman Place like I have. It’s an oasis of neighborly warmth, a living monument to close-knit neighborhood life of decades ago.

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5 Responses to It Takes a Street to Raise Jacob

  1. Kristin @ Intrepid Murmurings says:

    Ah! What a great story! So far from my own experience, but wonderful to know it exists. Cheers to Lyman Place!

  2. Darlene_Voss_FB says:

    Fantastic… Our Nation needs more streets like this!

  3. lr_khaimovich says:

    A documentary “Where Do The Children Play” (http://www.michigantelevision.org/childrenplay/) has an insightful comparison of childhood in an inner city, in a prosperous suburb, and on an island in Lake Michigan, where “civilization” is lagging in many respects by 100 years or so.

    BTW, I believe that “terrible twos” are not universal at all and are limited to impatient circles, where children are dragged into adulthood by curbing natural instincts and pushing reasoning and compassion on them too soon.

  4. lr_khaimovich says:

    I hope you are sarcastic, Darlene. Children there are doomed too. Just because of a different set of problems. What we need is what Mike is trying to do with the Playborhood. 🙂 Or… something similar to that.

  5. Anonymous says:

    This reminds of the Dutch concept “Woonerf” developed in the seventies for streets where cars have to yield to playing kids and pedestrians.