finding urban ‘tethers’ in city places

Tether3 ChuckWolfe

In London’s Russell Square one recent morning, I saw the human-scale “tether” illustrated above. Whether for safety or togetherness, parent and child traversed the square, each with strap in hand.

“Is this a cultural thing?”, I wondered while watching. Or was this just big-city caution on display, during travel from here to there?

In contrast, just days before, in Bastia, on the French island of Corsica, a more removed and indirect “tether” was clearly at play. In the wide-open Place Saint-Nicolas, two boys, seemingly alone, consulted without fear.

Unlike the Russell Square example,  the physical distance between parent and child in Bastia seemed surprisingly trusting, fully immersed in the surrounding urban environment.


In the tradition of the open square, “eyes on the street” were everywhere in Bastia. If Russell Square was a path across green, then Place Saint-Nicolas was stage without curtain.

The inset in the photo above (as well as the larger photo below) show aerial views of the square, with arrows depicting viewpoints of parents who elected the more permissive, visual “tether” on that late summer day.

Notably. the flanking cafés along Boulevard du Général de Gaulle enhanced this captive, stage effect.  The outcome honored any urbanist’s nostalgic quest for a livable public place. In the Place Saint-Nicolas, the  view from its many vantage points stood in for the physical “tether” in the London example.


These photos and Google Earth aerials illustrate how culture, weather, purpose and urban form combine to define particular  “tethers” between parent and child in the city.  Sometimes literal and sometimes more subtle, such relationships are key to the rhythm of urban places today.

Images composed by the author in London and in Bastia (Corsica), France. Overhead views courtesy of Google Earth. Click on each image for more detail. © 2009-2013 myurbanistAll Rights Reserved. Do not copy.

For more information on the role of personal experience in understanding the changing city, see Urbanism Without Effort, an e-book from Island Press.

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