I am pleased to share a revealing, insightful and inspiring story from my home city. Clare Rogers wanted to make her streets safer for her kids. This goal led her first to organising Playing Out sessions in her own street in North London, then to becoming an advocate for walking, cycling and more child-friendly neighbourhoods.
Clare’s enthusiasm for play street sessions, with their potential to offer a more attractive vision of what residential streets can offer, fits with my own research into the power of the model. But it is her messages for campaigners that resonate most strongly.
Car dominance is a real problem for city-dwellers everywhere, and especially for urban children. But it will not be solved by pitting motorists against cyclists. Instead, we need to shift the focus to building a shared vision for urban neighbourhoods and cities as a whole.
Talking about children helps make this shift. Enrique Peñalosa – recently re-elected mayor of Bogotá – is famous for his maxim (which Clare also highlights) that children are an indicator species for children: if they work for kids, they work for everyone. The converse is also true: cities that do not work for children are not working for anyone.
It is with an inward sigh that I share the news that once again, the US Standards body ASTM is considering a proposal to adopt stricter requirements for playground surfacing.
As regular readers will know, I have spoken out against this proposal several times. I was relieved to see its rejection last year, and can see no good reason for it to return. I urge anyone with influence within ASTM to take appropriate action (ballot no. F08 (16-06) for ASTM subcommittee F08.63 and main committee F08).
My long-time collaborator Bernard Spiegal posted a succinct piece last week on the topic. The Guardian editorial on cycle helmets he quotes makes a crucial point: there are rarely simple answers to questions about public risk. We have to talk about values, and we have to accept that humans are complex, contradictory creatures.
As Spiegal points out, risk benefit assessment is a tool that, while simple in form, recognises the complexity of judgements about risk. It is explicit about the need for clarity and consensus about values.
By the way, if you are interested in cycle helmets – and cycling – you may like to download a report on cycling and children and young people I wrote for the National Children’s Bureau in 2005. It includes a discussion of cycle helmet safety in which I tried to do justice to the complexity of this emotive issue.
“Their marvellous environments for cycling did not appear out of nowhere – they are not some innate condition of being ‘Dutch’.” An important history lesson for those of us arguing for more child-friendly streets.
I was struck by two details from yesterday’s blogpost by Mark Wagenbuur, about early protests for child-friendly streets in Amsterdam in the 1970s – details that highlight the importance of the quality of the physical environment for enabling cycling, over and above any prevailing national culture or attitudes.
The first instance was the contentiousness of the changes being proposed to the streets in Mark’s post. One Dutchman, surrounded by children, argued that it was ‘impossible’ to create a street without motor traffic on it. You can see this in the video, about 2:30 in.
These were residential streets, which now have motor traffic filtered out, as Mark describes in his post. This is an almost universal treatment across residential areas in the Netherlands now, but back then, the notion of doing this was evidently completely foreign to this gentleman. These streets were for driving. (These attitudes were reflected…