New York’s Gramercy Park is a curious institution: two acres of fenced-in greenspace that is accessible only to those who own the houses surrounding the park. (Non-residents must either stay at the Gramercy Park Hotel or join the Players Club or National Arts Club if they want to visit, and each of these institutions has a limited number of park keys.) Private parks like it are the exception, of course, not the rule: since the days of Frederick Law Olmsted, who campaigned for and designed city parks across North America (Central Park, in New York, and Montreal’s Mount Royal Park among them) we have come to expect most of our recreational spaces to be public. Cities and neighbourhoods are routinely rated on both the quantity and quality of their parks, and any suggestion that these services should be cut back always receives violent reactions from taxpayers; playgrounds, too, are public by default.

It’s a question that most parents of young daughters face: “Has she hit the ‘princess phase’ yet?” Not all parents are upset by this, of course: many happily buy their girls princess costumes, toys and accessories ranging from shoes to purses, all in pink. Some, though, despair of the powerful gender stereotyping this delivers to young girls and each new piece of princess gear can be a source of conflict.

On Saturday, September 26, 2009, the US network Nickelodeon did something unusual: it switched itself off. This was in observance of the “Worldwide Day of Play,” an event Nickelodeon inaugurated in 2004. The network – along with its sister channels Noggin, the N, and Nicktoons, and their associated Web sites – went dark for three hours to encourage its young viewers to “ride a bike, do a dance, kick a ball, skate a board, jump a rope, swing a swing, climb a wall, run a race, do ANYTHING that gets you up and playing!”

Last year in this space we wrote about how summer movies serve as advertisements for various kinds of merchandising. The success of 2007’s Transformers and its sequel this summer point to a different but similar trend: making movies that are actually about the toys companies sell.

It’s been widely said that attention is the currency of the 21st Century. In an age where media occupy an increasingly central role in our lives, the need to have that media focused on you becomes intense. For no-one is this more true than for children and teens, who now expect to be connected twenty-four hours a day and for whom the Internet and cell phones are essential parts of their social lives. An interesting Facebook page, amusing Tweets, outrageous YouTube videos, even shocking photos sent by cell phone – most of us are aware of the ways that young people seek their peers’ attention. In today’s media environment, is it still possible to teach young people the value of privacy? What, indeed, does the idea of privacy even mean to today’s children and teens?

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