My youth up till age 12 was spent in New Orleans. Used to roam the west bank river levee with my friends from Algiers to Belle Chase. We’d also ride our bikes to the ferry and hit the French Quarter for the day. A couple of eleven year olds on Bourbon street was quite an educational experience in the early 70’s.
I think the independence factor is the issue, not necessarily exposure to rocks and rills. My uppermost priority in childhood was to go off to see the world on my own, even just to roller skate at six years of age blocks beyond my “boundary” in Queens (NY). I was a tiny little girl and Mom was a micromanager. I just could not stand it!
New Orleans was the second city I was allowed to explore on my own. I loved its murky strangeness. My grandmother lived there in the Garden District and we visited every Easter vacation. I was FINALLY allowed to wander the Quarter by myself at age 12, though I wanted to slip my moorings much earlier. The year before, at 11, I got to prowl around San Francisco, where we stayed in the St. Francis Hotel in 1947. My mother was pregnant and I wasn’t about to hang around the hotel all day. The doorman pointed me toward Chinatown: “Walk uphill, and walk downhill to get back to the hotel.”
It wasn’t all that different in the sixties when my kids grew up on the beach between Santa Monica and Marina del Rey. We lived in the Marina and they walked or biked to SamoHi every day. There were some bad characters then, but self-destructive hippie druggies were relatively harmless to others. Now, of course, an adult would be crazy to walk that beach alone without two Dobermans and an Uzi.
I spent a few delightful years as a travel writer, with assignments all over the world. Both of my kids headed to foreign shores the minute they left school. I’m seriously ticked that so many countries are so dangerous for Americans now, and even more ticked that I seem to look like an easy target at my allegedly advanced age. @#$#&(*& to THAT!