In Praise of PBS Kids’ City Island

Teaching the Next Generation to Love Cities

When I was young, some of the kids’ shows that made me fall in love with cities included Sesame Street, Mr. Rogers, and Hey Arnold!. Growing up in a rural environment, those shows had a certain excitement and mystique. They featured buses, subways, trains, buildings, and people – such an array of people and jobs and cultures and interactions. I wanted to know those people, understand those jobs, explore those buildings, ride those buses. One common thread each of those shows held was their reverence for urban places and the people and systems and norms that are contained in them. Each of those shows was, in its own way, a love letter to the City.

The shows didn’t try to sterilize the City, nor did they portray urban environments as scary, dangerous places. They showed what cities are. Some places are cool. Others a bit run down. And everywhere, people living and working, raising families and doing their day-to-day activities.

On Hey Arnold!, kids go to school in a mid-rise building, get around town on the city bus system, learn from and live with multi-generational members of their families, and reflect on life lessons on rooftops looking out over the neighborhood. Sesame Street and Mr. Rogers regularly highlight the different systems and jobs that keep cities and society going.

Today’s kids have another show in that pantheon. It’s on PBS Kids, and it’s called City Island. The show’s format is brief, three-and-a-half minute shorts which I assume play in the spaces where most channels would show commercials. You can’t find the episodes on the PBS Kids main website, but you can find them on the PBS Kids YouTube channel. My own children are past the age of watching PBS Kids, but my brother’s children are that age. That’s how I learned about City Island.

The main character is a lightbulb named Watt whose father is a desk lamp named Frank Lloyd Light. Frank’s job? You guessed it – architect. Every episode focuses on some aspect of living in a society from learning about the library to learning about civic participation and the public good to learning and respecting the history of a place, all with a beautiful urban backdrop.

When my brother told me about the show, I looked up the specific episode he was referencing and then continued to watch one episode after another for the better part of an hour. It’s that great! Well done, PBS Kids. If you have children, make sure you introduce them to City Island. If you don’t have children, introduce yourself to the show. You’re going to love it.

What other city-centric or urban-framed kids shows are on your list? Share them in the comments.

Anaiah Matthew is a Partner Writer for Resident Urbanist. He is also the author of The Walkist, which explores the experience of walking through the eyes of a city planner while touching on topics of philosophy, sports, psychology, hobbies, and more. In the words of the venerable Dr. Austin Johnson, author of Executive Counseling, The Walkist “combines the discipline of a scholar, the wisdom of experience, and the unforced poetry of someone fully present in the moment.” Anaiah lives and works in Austin, Texas.You can also find content from The Walkist on Instagram.

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