Monday, August 2, 2010

On Spaces for Kids

While I was taking in my mom's blanket from the clothesrack outside, I noticed the kids playing on the porch of the semi-detached house on the corner of the street diagonally across from my family's house. It'd been so long since I saw children playing there, I was a bit startled in the back of my mind. The first owner had been Encik Kamaruddin, who I remember most because he owned rabbits (back then, the brick wall was a wire fence, so we could peer across the drain at the rabbit enclosure). The house has always been owned by Malays, although for a while, it was rented out to factory workers. 

Subang Jaya, old Subang Jaya especially, was built for raising families. Most of the houses here are built to suit lower-to-rising middle-class families, and growing up, I knew a lot of nuclear families.

We kids came out in the evening to play badminton on the streets, or tag (colloquially called "catching") at the nearby playground (which used to be made of cement, but is now made of plastic that I wouldn't trust kids to not break); the kids don't do that anymore. It's not just because of the advent of the digital age, though: my generation are yuppies now, and the next generation are being primed to outdo us - extra classes, extracurricular activities, and generally less horsing around.

Subang Jaya, in the 80s and 90s, was meant to raise kids in. There're two primary schools and three secondary schools, as well as one private school with both primary and secondary levels. Three of these schools are in one housing area alone. In my housing set, there are three colleges.

Unfortunately, because Subang Jaya is also the town center and a commercial hub, there have been more and more buildings raised. This clogs up our local traffic even more, which means more roads being built. As the corporate class moves in to do business, more retail and food service businesses open, and many of them staffed by foreigners (this doesn't mean I dislike foreign workers; this means I dislike employers who feel they need to hire cheaper than local, and foreign workers are the easiest to target for cheap costs, because they often don't know their rights and are less likely to fight back against poor wages. And, sometimes, because of this tenuous position of theirs, they are a lot nicer than locals).

This pisses me off, because when a residential area stops focusing on the needs of the families it is built for, it becomes yet another space for profiteers to come in. And any space that values profiteering is open to more crime than it otherwise would be. (This is my pet theory.)

In the recent Feministe kerfuffle on kids, which was a trainwreck and a half, I was pretty confused by how polarized people's positions were; it seemed that you were either on the side of moms and telling off mainstream feminists for not focusing enough on the needs of mothers, or you were on the side of the childless women and getting offended at being told to pay more tribute to motherhood, traditionally a method of patriarchal binding women to family institutions. Both sides were right in their own way, but it seemed like an all-or-nothing position.

It was confusing to me, because I grew up with the expectations that, yes, eventually I'll be a mother, but after I've sorted my ish out. So, there's a time we're expected to be single and childfree, and then there's a time when we're expected to be mothers. I see children in plenty of places all over except, of course, in spaces which are not good for them, like bars (where alcohol is served). I believe that working towards a world that centers children is good for adults, too.

I think there's an overwhelming assumption that anything good for kids is necessarily dumbed-down. This really shuts us off from world of sharing between generations. Either we think "kid stuff" is too stupid for adults to consume, or we produce "kid stuff" that talks down to children. While it's true that children may not necessarily grasp certain concepts easily, that doesn't mean it's not worth talking to them about.

Look at the concept of race, for example. Parents don't want to explain racism and how it works to kids, because then they'll think the kids will grow up knowing how to be racist, because they can recognize race. I... don't know how to explain colourblind logic.

It always seemed quite obvious to me that if you want adult-specific spaces, then you've got to create child-appropriate spaces where they'll be safe among people who want them there and where they'll be stimulated enough to not bother you in your adult spaces. In order to create child-appropriate spaces, you've got to care about kids. You don't go about creating adult-specific spaces because you hate kids, because then you set aside the children's needs in an effort to shunt them off, creating environments which are not good for them, and of course it's going to be a hella lot harder getting them to stay in child-designated zones.

Now, I'm not a mom at all, just planning to be one, and that's pretty far off. But I remember what it was like to be a kid and wanting to be in spaces where I could be with other kids with adults that sounded like they actually wanted to have me around. And it's not like there aren't any adults who love having kids around. But adults who love having kids around and are actually skilled at taking care of them? ... Who will pay for them to do this? Are they supposed to take care of strangers' children non-stop for too-little pay? We already don't pay mothers for their wage (and don't give me the "the best reward for moms is love" bullshit - I see this a lot in Western narratives and wtfIDE? The best reward for your parents is for you to take care of their aging selves in the best way you can provide for them once you're independent and they need you).

The more Subang Jaya evolves into a commercialized space, the more I realize that, that there shopping mall? With offices on top? Could have been a school to help spread out the students a bit more. It might have been a nice safe spot with large rolling gardens for a kindergarten.

Or, hell, some suggestions that would have served the community: a new wet market, with lots of parking space. Because when the old wet market was destroyed for that shiny yellow building, we were promised a new wet market. We sort of do, but the parking's not the least bit adequate. Or a small agricultural co-op. But wait, Jha! What do wet markets and agricultural co-ops have to do with children?? EVERYTHING! They serve families! Most of which have children! And the opportunities to educate children by exposing them to noisy adults haggling and conversing the way they do in wet markets is subliminally phenomenal. I don't know about co-ops, since I was never involved in one, but hey, getting kids to help in the garden couldn't possibly be a bad idea.

I told this to my dad. He laughed and said, "that wouldn't happen, because it doesn't make money." Always the money problem. I can understand it on some level, but honestly? Who's profiting off the rent from these new commercial spaces? I highly doubt the money is coming back to the community that it fleeces.

One of the most unfortunate imports from the West we've received is consumerism, and the idea that we MUST HAVE THINGS, and NOW. It's not all bad and if given a chance, we could turn the tide, but as it stands, that's one of our problems right now.

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