Games in the Streets

Zechariah thought utopia is a place where there are games in the streets: “the streets of the city will be filled with boys and girls playing in its streets” (Zechariah 8:5).

Anthony Esolen agrees (Out of the Ashes, 164-5), because the fact that children play in the streets implies a great deal about the conditions of society. Riffing on Chesterton, he writes: “Because children should be able to play freely outdoors and for hours on end, there should be neighborhoods for them to play in. Because there should be neighborhoods, there should be in those locales the natural though informal monitors of the neighborhood: elderly people on their porches, many mothers, and men and women at work in family businesses nearby. Because there should be such neighborhoods filled with people, our social policies should favor them and support them, and our cultural expectations likewise. Therefore we should not subordinate the family to work; the double-income family should not be the norm; we should reconsider all things that tend to remove father and mother far from the place where they live.”

By contrast: “You do not feel comfortable sending your child outdoors to play. Of course you don’t. You have no neighborhood, only a geographical area. You have no local school. You do not know any of the mothers nearby. Old people live far away. Responsible people are never to be seen, because they are at work, both mother and father. They live too wealthy a live to afford more than a couple of children, so that you never have a sufficient number of children just roaming about to get going a game of anything much. The older people do not play cards with one another. No one visits anyone. Hospitality—your home’s openness to anyone who might show up at your door, any day, any hour—is a thing of the past.”

That seems too stark: Neighborhoods still exist in America, and street games sometimes flourish in neighborhoods that are far from healthy. Still, Esolen is on the same page as the prophet: A political order that encourages childish games in the street—that’s a true utopia.

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