Sandcastles, Ball Games, and Scooters

Unearthing Children's Play in the Public Parks of Interwar Paris

in Historical Reflections/Réflexions Historiques
Author:
Elvan Sahin New York University es3365@nyu.edu

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Abstract

By the interwar years, Parisian parks—artificial pockets of nature in the densely built city—had become a locus of debates around “child-friendly play spaces.” The diversity of Paris's young population in age, gender, and social status meant that the criteria of what constituted “child-friendly” was constantly in flux and that definitions of childhood remained fluid. Interwar Parisian parks became spaces of debate over proper forms of outdoor play and the risks children faced while playing. Municipal administrators and elected municipal councilors, together with pedagogues and parents, mutually constructed the spaces of parks and park-use policies. Children's presence in public acted both as an incentive and a challenge in creating municipal policies to regulate public spaces or in reconfiguring the organization of these spaces. Municipal council debates, parents’ petitions or complaints, reports filed by neighborhood representatives, and daily logs recorded by park guards all reveal how children's actions in green spaces played a pivotal role in the making and remaking of the urban environment.

Contributor Notes

Elvan Sahin is a PhD Candidate at New York University's Institute of French Studies and NYU's History Department. She is currently working on completing her dissertation entitled “Children's Paris: An Urban History of Childhoods, 1900–1940.” This article is based on dissertation research that has been supported by the Chateaubriand Fellowship of the Cultural Services of the Embassy of France, the Beaujour Doctoral Fellowship of New York University's Institute of French Studies, and the New York University Global Research Initiative Fellowship. Email: es3365@nyu.edu

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