This weekend’s New York Times has a major feature and profile on Mike Lanza and his Playborhood campaign to make neighbourhoods more play-friendly. And it’s whipping up a storm. In this piece, I give my take on the campaign and my response to the key criticisms.
First, some background. Lanza’s rallying cry is “turn your neighborhood into a place for play” – a goal he has been pursuing for at least nine years. His book and blog are first and foremost a set of practical advice, ideas and case studies for achieving that goal.
Lanza first got into the issue because of his concerns as a dad bringing up three children. What drives him is, in large part, the contrast between his own typically free-range 70s childhood and the highly constrained lives of most children today. I share his view that this change marks a profound loss.
Lanza’s campaign is aimed squarely at parents. He has three big messages for them: you should care about your kids’ play and everyday freedoms, you can and should take steps to expand them, and you should start with your own home and neighbourhood. The youtube video below introduces Lanza and his Playborhood idea.
Here is the item on street play that was broadcast on The One Show last Monday (24 June 2013). It focuses on the road closure session in Worthing that I described in my post from a couple of weeks ago (and yes, I do pop up a couple of times, flying the flag for outdoor play).
I have written before about street play, and plugged the Playing Out project, whose community-based approach to opening up streets for play is spreading fast. A couple of weekends ago I witnessed a whole Playing Out session from beginning to end (and you will have the chance to see the edited highlights on primetime TV [Update Weds 3 July 2013: watch a clip from this blog post of mine]). It was a thrilling event, welcomed and enjoyed by people of all ages. But while I shared their enthusiasm, I was left wondering if the sheer energy of the occasion could paradoxically weaken the initiative’s prospects. I’ll come back to that thought later – but first, let’s set the scene.
After my last blog post about German children having more everyday freedom than their English peers, Andrea – a German-born woman who now lives in the USA – got in touch to leave a comment. She had some revealing things to say about the differences between her home and adopted countries, and has agreed to let me share them more prominently. She paints a depressing picture of car-dependence and isolation: a stark comparison with her experiences in Germany. Here is her story.
New research from the Policy Studies Institute (PSI) shows that only a quarter of English primary school children are allowed to walk to school alone – yet in Germany, three quarters are. It is easy to think that the decline in children’s freedom to play out of doors and get around on their own is an inevitable side effect of modern life. That is why international comparisons are so valuable: they can show us how things might be different.
My plan to showcase some of London’s most playful places has been in the pipeline for a while. And now it’s around the corner. For all the latest info, follow this link to the mighty Playscapes blog – including handy onward links to the Open House website, with more details and maps for all the venues.