In 1903, on the opening day of New York’s first municipal playground at Seward Park, 20,000 children stormed the site, climbing over iron fences and pushing past 200 policemen stationed there to keep order, excited to try out the swings and sandboxes that offered them a new way of playing. Today, the city has hundreds of playgrounds, many based on the Seward Park model. But kids are spending less time outdoors than previous generations did.

In reaction to the spread of structured, careerist...


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