Kids Build Fort, City Finds it Not Up to Code

Yep, kids built a fort on an empty lot. Then someone called in a complaint. First off, here’s the letter the kids wrote to the city:

Dear bisasasrte
City, Please do not tear this house down! We have all worked for almost a year on it, for hours and hours. We have all had fun climbing on it, camping in it, having picnics in it. Many happy memories were forged here. We all hope that it won’t be torn down. So please don’t tear it down!

Can you guess what happened next? Here’s the story, from KCTV in Missouri.  Missouri! Isn’t that where Tom Sawyer lived? Imagine it now. “Tom! Put down that paint brush. You don’t have a permit!”

And here’s the “happy” ending that I find hideously warped and unhappy:

There are already plans in the works to build a new fort, meeting city code and even getting an architect involved.

Woo hoo! Because it is so much more fun when an adult tells you what to build and how to build it. – L.

Let's bulldoze anything resembling initiative!

Let’s bulldoze anything resembling initiative!


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31 Responses to Kids Build Fort, City Finds it Not Up to Code

  1. Lola January 23, 2014 at 9:57 am #

    In my day, those were called bullies… You know, some bigger kids tearing down little kids’ forts. And what’s the bet that they’ll nail some stupid sign reading “not allowed for kids under such-and-such age”!

  2. Warren January 23, 2014 at 10:10 am #

    And because of the blame/lawsuit/liability fear driven american lifestyle………..these kids will have to form an assoc. and acquire some form of insurance to cover their fort.

  3. C. S. P. Schofield January 23, 2014 at 10:11 am #

    In the 1950’s Robert Paul Smith wrote “WHERE DID YOU GO?” “OUT” “WHAT DID YOU DO?” “NOTHING”, about the lives kids lead under the parental radar. He also wrote at least one article (for LIFE magazine) arguing that parents should leave their kids alone. Both the book and the article were well written and engaging. It’s a pity that apparently it went in one National ear and out the other.

  4. J.T. Wenting January 23, 2014 at 11:20 am #

    they’re lucky they weren’t arrested for trespassing and squatting for building a play fort on land belonging to others…
    Or for building something without a proper license and without paying mandatory union dues (after all, only union members are allowed to work in construction in many places, so probably there as well).

  5. Papilio January 23, 2014 at 11:44 am #

    Yeah, we have nonsense like that going on too sometimes, especially when treehouses are visible from the public street.
    But kids who like to build often have something of an alternative: huttendorp. It’s basically a yearly event organized by community centers in several (no idea how many) cities across the country, where they provide cheap material for (little groups of) kids to build themselves a little ‘house’. I’ve seen age ranges like 4-12 years old, or 6 to 12/13 – kids 10 and up could stay overnight. But this is just some weeks in the summer, and then everything is teared down, big bonfire, next year a new chance. You can google Huttendorp, the photo’s can tell you more than I 🙂

  6. Emily January 23, 2014 at 12:30 pm #

    So, the kids collaborated on building something together, included everyone who wanted to participate (as was evidenced by their hand-lettered sign that said “Builders’ Association Open To Everyone”), they saw their project to completion, and they obviously took a lot of pride in their work. Why wouldn’t they? By building that fort, they created a “headquarters” or “home base” for the kids of the neighbourhood, that probably facilitated a whole lot of co-operative play going forward. Then, the adults chimed in, and on the strength of ONE complaint (probably from an anonymous person who just thought the fort was ugly, but used the magic napalm word “safety” to get their way), the city literally bulldozed over a year of the kids’ work, in about thirty seconds, while salving the kids justifiably hurt and angry feelings with a pizza party, which isn’t a great message, because that kind of thing, if done often enough, can set the stage for emotional eating. The kids came up with the idea of building a new fort somewhere else, and the adults swooped in and hired an architect, thereby teaching kids that they can’t be trusted to work together on their own, and they need adults to do everything with them, and for them, so that they don’t make any mistakes.

    Anyway, the thing that strikes me the most from this, is that the kids acted much more maturely than the adults, and also, that the kids didn’t all run for their screened devices after the fort was torn down. They might still meet at the vacant lot to play, but it wouldn’t be the same without the fort. If there’s a delay in hiring the architect, then that might very well put a damper on the kids playing together, which is a shame, because so many adults encourage co-operative outdoor play over passive entertainment. The other thing that stood out to me was the fact that “there was always an adult supervising the kids at the fort.” Umm….why? I had a relatively sheltered childhood, but my brother and I had a lean-to fort in the woods behind our house, that backed into the park. We actively fought for the right to play in it unsupervised (it was in the densest part of the woods, not visible from the house or the park) but that was because the whole POINT of the fort was escaping the scrutiny of adults. The house belonged to our parents, and it was a place of rules, of dinner before dessert and homework before TV, and so on, and so forth. The fort was a place for junk food, and POGS, and shoes on the furniture (we had three log benches set up in a U shape). Giving adults any kind of jurisdiction over the fort, would have destroyed its magic.

  7. Susan January 23, 2014 at 12:32 pm #

    This just makes me want to cry. Our poor kids. What is the nanny state doing to them?

  8. QuicoT January 23, 2014 at 1:25 pm #

    I hope the cream-pie the s*#t out of those demo crews when they come to tear down the old fort…

  9. lollipoplover January 23, 2014 at 1:56 pm #

    “Then someone called in a complaint.”

    THIS is the problem with this whole debacle of a lesson we teach our children. It only takes one rotten apple.

    Please, please publish the names of those who file these complaints. They need to be publically shamed and not allowed to complain about any real crime in their neighborhood when they are calling in this fort as their reason to bitch for the day. I would not want to be that house come mischief night.

    We used any wood we could find to build our town of treeforts and structures in the woods behind our development back in the ’70’s. We even had a church with communion (stale bread and wine!) The forts had small steps (wood scraps) hammered directly into the tree to the platforms and walls up above. It was way, way more dangerous (and unsupervised!) than this little structure. I went back there recently with my kids and some of the steps are still on the trees and I showed them our treasure trove- the dump we used to dig for old bottles (it was an apothocary dump with lots of cool artifacts) which was undisturbed by the current kids in the neighborhood. They couldn’t believe this great place wasn’t being explored by kids!

  10. Jenn A Rawlines-Leblanc January 23, 2014 at 2:30 pm #

    I love how during the news interview the reporter asks the kids “Is everyone alright here?” And among a chorus of “Yes” and “Yeah”s one child screams “Noooooo!!” And you can see the child beside trying to shush her.. Lmao.. Even at that young age they already know that you should give the opinion the grow ups WANT to hear as opposed to how they really feel.. Not to mention the mother whose child stated they don’t want to live in that city anymore.. Great job grow ups…When the inspector starts yammering on about how they can’t just turn a blind eye to a “violation” I wanted to punch him in the throat.

    On a positive note I love the little boy who says the solution is to “Build a new fort and move it somewheres else”..I also think it is great that the parents of these kids allowed them to work together, with real tools, and actually see the project through from start to finish. Although, some complain that the kids shouldn’t have to be supervised during fort play anyways, I woulduch rather these kids get to build and interact outdoors, with supervision, then not at all…I think most parents would love to let their children have a bit more freedom but are simply afraid to do so. Not from fear of injury or kidnapping but from fear of meddling, nosy Ned’s and CPS reports.

  11. WendyW January 23, 2014 at 3:08 pm #

    I hope that the architect involved in the upcoming project is the dad of one of the kids, and that his involvement will be in the form of offering some technical advice, not in taking over the project. I REALLY hope these parents are not paying someone to take all the fun out of this.

    There should be some kind of disclaimer in city laws stating that kid-built structures are not subject to building codes, the city takes no responsibility for them, and must be torn down when no longer in use or the property is sold. That should cover most of the liability issues.

  12. Cass January 23, 2014 at 3:28 pm #

    I was hoping the happy ending was going to be.

    “And the council organised a builder who came and helped the kids make a few minor modifications to make it completely safe. Taught the kids a few building techniques and left them with a box of nails and a pile of timber in case they had extensions in mind. “

  13. Tommy Udo January 23, 2014 at 4:06 pm #

    In addition to the architect, they will most likely have to hire a consulting firm to do an environmental impact report on biological and cultural resources.

  14. steve January 23, 2014 at 6:01 pm #

    Sad story. And I agree that the person who complained should NOT be anonymous.

    On the bright side, you can bet that these kids will remember this when they are grown and married, and they’ll allow their own kids to build something and protect it from other adults.

  15. Puzzled January 23, 2014 at 6:34 pm #

    Regarding the architect’s involvement, and the comments here about it – in a nutshell, that’s my objection to even the best schools and education. The best schools, or at least the ones I like best, are the ones that teach students what they care about and what they’re interested in. Yet, just like this city getting an architect involved, even the best schools inevitably end up stealing that interest, and usually destroying it.

    If an adult told you “that bird is pretty” you’d probably have a conversation about it, or not, and leave it at that. If you’re a teacher at a progressive school, you’ll probably show up with 10 books about birds and pressure them into daily conversations about birds, structured in the manner of a biology course, and have an objective in each conversation.

    This is what’s happening with this architect. Oh, they want to build a fort? Cool, we love that idea…but they have to do it right. We’ll provide an architect, tell them how to do it…exactly the way schools behave when they get hold of a student interest.

  16. Reziac January 23, 2014 at 8:38 pm #

    Just in case anyone thinks it’s only affecting kids:

    This is affecting actual homes that were built before any building codes or permit requirements (but can’t prove it, since the county claims to have conveniently lost the records in a fire).

    So, yeah, let’s teach those kids young that if they build their own house, Code Enforcement will make them tear it down, so they won’t grow up to be adults who might, Code forbid, have the balls to build something real for themselves.

  17. Bob Davis January 23, 2014 at 8:48 pm #

    As one of my old colleagues used to say, “That’s enough to make the Pope cuss on Easter Sunday!” There are some people who aren’t happy unless they’re making someone else miserable. My favorite example from a while back is the one from a neighborhood with a “homeowners’ association”. One of the residents put a basketball backboard over the garage door so his kids and their friends could shoot hoops after school. In just a few days he received a stern letter from the HOA advising him that the backboard was in violation of section Z, subsection Y on page X of the covenants, codes and restrictions. Apparently a grumpy neighbor to whom the sounds of kids having run were unpleasant noise (and who probably had all the fine print in the CC&R memorized) lost no time in putting an end to the fun. There should be a special place in the Nether Regions for killjoys like this.

  18. Bob Davis January 23, 2014 at 8:50 pm #

    Oops! I meant to say “kids having FUN”

  19. bmj2k January 23, 2014 at 11:53 pm #

    Now that the city is involved, those kids can expect to never play in that fort. A vacant lot? So who is liable for injury? Who will supervise the kids? Who will enforce play hours? It will be too risky to allow kids to play there. But it won’t matter, since the adult-designed and professionally built fort won’t be nearly as fun or imaginative as what the kids made, not to mention the pride they felt in their structure which will be absent in this. Expect the kids to move to another location and build another fort (if they aren’t too jaded by this) to play in, at least until some other crusading busybody gets involved.

  20. J.T. Wenting January 24, 2014 at 12:55 am #

    “On the bright side, you can bet that these kids will remember this when they are grown and married, and they’ll allow their own kids to build something and protect it from other adults.”

    no, they’ll remember that you are not allowed to let your children go outside and do anything without a permit and government supervision.

  21. bmommyx2 January 24, 2014 at 1:04 am #

    how sad. I think a few years ago someone built a really big tree house & the neighbor called & reported them to the city & they wanted to tear it down. I don’t remember what happened. Don’t they have better things to do like go after slumlord landlords for code violations??

  22. Kay January 24, 2014 at 2:17 pm #

    Didn’t this used to be a typical child’s play? Building tree houses and forts? Like my brothers did? Too bad they built it on a vacant lot and not their property, I wonder if it would have been left alone. If they could have moved it, would they have still have had to tear it down because of “codes”. This isn’t a dwelling!

  23. Christina January 24, 2014 at 2:58 pm #

    This is just all kinds of wrong. My kids have a “lab” set up on our (currently snow-covered) back deck. They absolutely love working on stuff out there after school on non-polar-vortex days. Honestly, it’s mainly old newspapers, pencils, paper clips, clamps, and random broken appliances they’ve scavenged from the alley and broken down into ever smaller bits. It is unsightly, to say the least, but after reading this, I’m going to defy my own neat-nik tendencies and leave it be.

  24. Casey January 24, 2014 at 3:50 pm #

    Aaand this story illustrates why my dad never wanted any of us to be involved in adult-directed after-school sports. He always said it was only really play if the kids came together on their own and organized things their own way, rather than taking direction from adults who needed to feel important.

    I used to think he only held that view to avoid having to drive to practices and pay team fees, but now I understand what he meant. When adults get involved, it becomes all about the adults’ needs to feel in control or like they are teaching kids something.

  25. Emily January 24, 2014 at 4:34 pm #

    @Casey–Your dad was really on to something (although, as a rule, I think kids should at least be enrolled in swimming lessons, for safety reasons), but one of the recurring themes here on Free Range Kids is the fact that spontaneous, independent play isn’t as accessible these days, because too many kids are busy being shuttled from one structured activity to another.

  26. EB January 24, 2014 at 5:20 pm #

    My sister built a raft when she was about 8. My Dad said, at the beginning, “Gee, Sally, those logs look pretty water-logged.” But she kept on, and he didn’t stop her. Well of course, the raft sank the minute she put in in the water, but it was a great experience.

  27. lollipoplover January 25, 2014 at 8:23 am #

    If the adults help out, maybe they can build something cool like this:–abc-news-lifestyle.html

  28. JP January 25, 2014 at 12:14 pm #

    @ Emily –
    I think you ‘nailed’ it. That IS the point. Escaping the scrutiny of adults.
    Which (irony aside) no kid ever comes here to speak for themselves (nor probably ever will) for perhaps perfectly good reasons?……but I wonder sometimes.
    But ‘play’ used to do exactly that. Escape scrutiny. That’s what made it fun.
    Just as how so many kids can’t go anywhere anymore without mom or dad’s car keys – a kid’s life is all polarized.
    But I gotta wonder sometimes, how many adults out there really don’t want their scrutiny escaped. As if some neurosis of emotional investment has to borrow from and privatize the natural independence of their kids.
    No architected or common coded “fort” will ever replace the magic of the one lost.
    That’s like taking down the magic of fridge doodle art, and replacing it with a Rembrandt. Totally misses the point.

  29. Peter January 27, 2014 at 4:38 pm #

    When I was 8 and building a small fort of boxes, I would’ve loved an architect coming in, saying it’s unsafe, tearing it down, and building a new non-box fort mostly without me. About as much as I loved blisters.

    You know, while we’re at it, we should have architects build miniature toys for children so the children don’t hurt themselves playing with legos and experimenting with different ways to build things.

  30. Andy January 27, 2014 at 10:56 pm #

    This is such a cocky pot. Only in America.

  31. Emily January 28, 2014 at 3:52 pm #

    @JP–How many adults don’t want their scrutiny escaped? I’d say, “too many,” but honestly, I don’t get it. The idea of knowing every detail of your child’s life, in addition to managing your own life, sounds exhausting, and even more so if you have multiple children. What ever happened to “Go play outside, I need some quiet?” I suppose it’s morphed into “Go watch TV/play a video game/amuse yourself quietly inside,” but the “experts” frown on that now too–TV’s and computers are supposed to be strictly in common areas of the house, so parents can keep an eye on what their kids are watching/reading/saying/playing. If I had kids, and they built a fort (or participated in building one), and that occupied enough of their time that they were out of my hair for most of the after school and weekend hours, I’d be thrilled. I’m not a parent now, but when my friend and I were running our music camp, “park time” after lunch was the only real break we got, and much as we loved teaching music to the kids, we needed that break. We were there at the park with them, with a First Aid kit (which we only needed once), but we let the kids do pretty much anything they wanted–cartwheels, flips on the bars, hanging upside down, tag on the playground equipment, were all fine. Given that amount of “free range” (since it was technically a supervised day camp program), the kids behaved really well, because they felt trusted and respected.

    Another thing–the loss of the fort because it didn’t meet the city building code (which most fort-building-age kids don’t even know exists), might well bleed into other areas of kids’ lives. For example, the kids who got their fort taken away, and replaced with a “perfect,” architect-built fort, might be reluctant to ride a bicycle, or try their first cartwheel in gymnastics class, or attempt long division for the first time, etc., because they’ve been taught that making mistakes and being imperfect isn’t okay. This whole business with the fort isn’t that far removed from the science fair of beautiful, obviously parent-constructed projects, that make the independent-kid-made projects look inferior by comparison.