Play Streets and Street Play: Should children play on the street?Playtime Latest

07/09/2015 – Play Streets and Street Play: Should children play on the street?

Recently there has been a move towards creating what are known as ‘Play Streets’, so children can play out safely in their neighbourhoods. The idea is pretty simple; a group of parents get council permission to close off the street where they live so children can take over and play outside together.
It happens every summer in New York and is becoming quite popular in London. Closer to home, Dublin City Council has been exploring the possibility of closing streets for play through the introduction of “Temporary Minor Street Play Orders”.  The initiative was proposed by Dublin City Councillor Deirdre Heney and she hopes to see it trialled in Donnycarney, north Dublin.

Of course there was a time when the streets belonged to children. Playing out together was part of the daily routine, with no need for play orders or street closures. But there has been a huge growth in car ownership and thus an increase in cars on the road as well as an increase in traffic speeds.  That increase in volume and speed means it just isn’t as safe for children to play outside their own front doors as it used to be.  Typically children are taken off to play in a playground or park - or they stay inside.

But the disappearance of children from their local streets has given rise to a number of problems including;  a loss of independence and less freedom to roam, they are missing out on socialising with friends and they have less opportunities for the kind of physical activity which wandering about and playing affords. Not only that, but the neighbourhood suffers too. Children are often the glue that binds a community together. But now that children are less likely to be out and about, kids are not getting to know each other and parents are not getting to know their neighbours through their kids.

Studies show that giving children the chance to play outside on their streets has advantages for the children and the community alike. A recent evaluation of the Hackney Play Streets scheme in London identified those advantages quite clearly. It found there was more social interaction in neighbourhoods where Play Streets were being adopted and more scope for freedom and choice in play.

The fact that they are seen out on their streets also has the benefit of raising awareness of children’s needs in urban areas. Play Streets are ideal for younger children and they allow them a certain amount of freedom, but older children want to use their neighbourhood streets in much the same way adults do. They want to walk to the shops, to meet up with friends, to go to and from school, and to engage in their communities in various other ways. Creating ‘Play Streets’ is a good start to meeting children’s needs, but we need to go much further; we need to slow traffic down and reclaim the streets for the people who live in the city.