After writing my own post about free-ranging kids, I've been trying to pay attention to what I'm seeing in my own neighborhood. Laura also posts about this and the comments are a great sharing of different experiences, both the ones that the adults had as children and the ones that their kids are currently having. I've noticed that around here, lots of kids roam pretty freely at all ages, beginning around 8. When we went to the park, a group of kids around 9 or 10 rolled through on their bikes. I see kids on foot, bikes and scooters headed to the nearby shopping center or the closer ice cream shop. Older kids walk to the middle school, around 1 mile for many students. The public library is a block from the middle school and I regularly see unsupervised kids there. Our neighborhood has plenty of sidewalks. There are other divisions nearby that don't, but you still see kids on bikes there. Today, my kids walked to the park--a whole 3 blocks away!--by themselves. I tried, to no avail, to get them to walk to the library, a bit over a mile.
In other words, I think a culture persists here of kids playing in the street, roaming the neighborhood. In part, it's because, like one commenter at Laura's says, backyards are tiny, so basketball, football and frisbee games move to the street. We have no less than 3 basketball goals on our street, with regular pickup games happening mostly after dinner. One is right under a streetlight, so the games happen well into the fall. When we've contemplated relocating, it's this culture that I couldn't be sure would be replicated in another neighborhood. And, in fact, in more upper class neighborhoods, what I've seen is no sidewalks, no kids on bikes or on foot. In those places, there are only structured activities and playdates in fenced-in back yards.
I do long for a creek or some woods, but we get that through visits to various places, so I think that's okay. And I've also seen the kids do some pretty creative things on the computer. Geeky Boy constructed a very complex map today, which he posted to a Runescape forum. When he plays, I swear he spends 1/2 hour playing and another 3 hours writing, drawing, etc. So imagination can come from other places besides the outdoors.