Gerard Heumann

Toddlers in towers? No!

Works of architecture, part of the background in which we work and live our lives, have profound social and psychological influence. The following is a brief examination of a single issue – how the high-rise residential buildings flooding Israel today affect the lives of young children and their parents.

Psychological research has shown that living high above the cityscape defeats the spontaneous play and exploration that young children thrive on. In many cases children feel as if imprisoned in their apartments, placing enormous stress on their families, making parenting extremely difficult. Tensions can run high when young children are kept inside. As one mother recalls, her three year-old son ran out of their apartment into the hallway, having to make a great effort to coax him back in.

Young children learn to achieve gradual independence by going out on their own and then returning to the safety of their parents, much like the baby kangaroo climbing out and returning to its mother’s pouch. Children between the ages of two and seven need to make excursions into the world with the security of knowing that they’re able to return to the safety of their home. It is through this interchange between activity and dependency that a child gradually develops a sense of competence and independence.

Life in a high-rise apartment can be problematic for parents as well as there is less social contact than in low buildings. For some this isolation leads to depression. And as some families feel isolation, so do their kids.

Easy access to outdoors, is critically important to a toddler’s well-being and psychological growth, particularly to the young child’s need to develop a sense of autonomy. Appropriate child, family-friendly and green open space, ideally, needs to be as close by as possible, best if on-site or if public, immediately adjacent to your building.

Being able for a mother and child to see, hear or otherwise contact each other at will is difficult above three stories, much easier when a mother can look out the window and see her child playing outside.

Having no choice but to accept a tower, solutions that include common open space areas and planting as an integral part of the building on its upper floors, not just at street level, should be investigated.

Hopefully, architects, planning and building committees and real-estate developers will recognize the special needs of young families in designing new buildings and begin to relate to this important issue. Just one more in the long list of impacts of hi-rise apartment living, even now after many years, so little understood.

About the Author
Gerard Heumann is an architect and town planner in Jerusalem.
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