Adult memories of childhood experiences hold valuable clues to the importance of specific features of the built environment, regarding their impact on our safety, health, comfort, creativity, and other characteristics. As people age, they remember certain childhood places fondly, while others bring to mind hardship or discomfort. The dynamics of our experiences in various places as youth may have profound impacts on our experiences of place later in life. Memories of childhood experiences of place also provide a valuable record of the changing character and form of cities and towns, and of the evolution of the social construction of children and childhood, revealing changes in accepted ideas of where children belong, how they should participate in community life, and what roles they are expected to adopt as they mature.
Over the past century, both urban and rural environments in the United States have changed dramatically, altering children’s access to public space, their daily routines, and their options for places in which to raise their own families. Those who grew up in the early part of the 20th century have witnessed these changes firsthand. For individuals who have lived more than 100 years, memories of childhood places may offer the most striking contrast to the experiences of today’s children, offering a unique insight into changes in community structures, social norms, children’s responsibilities and parents’ expectations. This study records the childhood recollections of centenarians through semi-structured, one-on-one interviews and subject-drawn memory maps of their childhood environments. The research will benefit local historians and urban planners, providing valuable perspectives on the enduring influence of place on individual life histories to help inform current planning.
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