Attracting young people is key to urban competitiveness, but some cities still make being a kid a criminal offense.
Illustration by Tyler Hoehne
You can tell a lot about the attitude a city has towards its youth by the policies it maintains. Despite growing recognition that attracting young people is key to urban competitiveness, a surprising amount of municipalities still maintain laws that communicate that kids—teenagers mostly—are scary at worst, or a nuisance at best.
In municipal codes, there’s a whole range of policies that are little more than the legal version of “Get off my lawn, you kids!”—laws that make normal, even healthy behavior by young people illegal.
Below, we’ve highlighted three of the most common “anti-youth” policies that cities use to criminalize being a young person.
Shredding the gnar. Photo by Skateistan
Skateboarding bans are among the most ubiquitous and clearest examples of anti-youth laws.
Complaints about loitering or property damage are usually the stated motivation for banning skateboarding. But the effect of these laws is criminalizing a fun and healthy activity that mainly appeals to young people. Towns like Decatur, Georgia, and Wake Forest, North Carolina ban skateboarding in their downtown areas altogether.
A lot of towns take it further and ban rollerblading and the exasperatingly innocent activity of rollerskating in the streets. This kind of criminalization of childhood play is often peddled as a “safety” measure. But outlawing outdoor exercise is an increasingly indefensible policy as the country grapples with an unprecedented childhood obesity epidemic.
Thankfully, a lot of towns are wising up, recognizing that skateboarding can be a healthy form of transportation and a constructive, creative, and social outlet for youth. St. Petersburg, Florida is the newest city considering ditching its downtown skateboarding ban.
A dangerous situation brewing
The basketball ban is a particularly heinous example of this type of regulation, because on top of being fundamentally anti-youth, it has the added bonus of being not-too-covertly racist. Many American communities ban placing temporary hoops in the streets—a policy that is often justified on aesthetic or safety grounds. Others go farther by stealthily removing all outdoor hoops – complaining they attract crime or noise (and you know who).
Activists in the town of Lakewood, Ohio, have campaigned for years to convince the city to reintroduce outdoor basketball. But many Cleveland-area suburbs still maintain what amounts to a ban, even as the region celebrates prodigal son LeBron James’ recent return.
Image by drtreypennington via Flickr
Curfew laws are probably the most draconian kind of anti-youth municipal policy. These laws make just the act of existing as a young person in public after a certain hour illegal. Curfew laws give police the right to stop young people based on innate characteristics, rather than probable cause, which is one reason the American Civil Liberties Union argues that they violate the civil rights of young people. Meanwhile a number of studies have shown they have no impact on delinquency, consuming law enforcement resources that would more effectively be directed at more serious concerns.
Furthermore, curfew laws have been invoked for some pretty questionable reasons historically. They were used to suppress youth activism, such as the anti-war protests of the 1960s, and crack down on immigrant youth in the 1890s, according to research highlighted by the U.S. Department of Justice.