What’s the problem?

The challenges faced by youth in 2021 New Zealand are not simple and will not be solved with more social workers, police, teachers, what passes for new social housing or increasing welfare payments. The challenges include

  • Safety deficit: Parents isolate their children for fear of harm (with good reason)
  • Nature deficit: Children are becoming isolated from the natural world
  • Social deficit: Children isolated from adults and elders, no role models
  • Work ethic deficit: Children and teens lack exposure to work and entry jobs
  • Poverty: No money for the basic necessities of life
  • Poverty: Parents have their own problems, lack basic parenting skills
  • Poverty: An unhealthy environment surrounded by dysfunction
  • Digital addiction: Few real social networks, inhibits becoming functional adults
  • Dysfunctional Schooling: Bullying, overloaded teachers, social isolation
  • Substance abuse: Rampant in NZ, a major youth problem
  • Youth despair and suicide. The ultimate response to desperate conditions
  • Teen pregnancy and irresponsible parenting

The overused aphorism it takes a village to raise the child may be pithy, but it is true. Children learn by interacting with adults, by observing role models and learning the boundaries of society. When society creates artificial boundaries that break down human norms, dysfunction becomes the norm.

The government is concerned about child poverty, but fails to understand what causes poverty, and more importantly what ends it. Poverty is more than not having enough money. It is a withering of the soul, a despair that saps vitality and creates an unhealthy dependency on government systems. Poverty ends when social coherence is restored, when people feel their are a participating member of a community, where they have a social purpose. This social purpose must also be accompanied by what might be called a balance of trade, that one’s income is sufficient to meet one’s needs.

How a Market Town solves it

Humans are inherently social. They are hard-wired to learn in social environments where the first and most obvious answer is to ensure they live in complete communities surrounded by the full range of functional adults (as opposed to criminals, for example).

Begin by making these communities safe. Cars turn towns into mincemeat says architect Christopher Alexander, so ban the cars in the urban core. This makes the streets safe for children, where parents are comfortable letting them venture outside unaccompanied.

Then divide a town into side-by-side villages with a plaza in the centre of each that includes a childcare and primary school classrooms. A village has about 500 people, where everyone knows everyone else. The adults keep an eye on the kids, because they know them.