Tag Archives: playing out

How street play can help save cities from the car

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.

Sun web page screengrab London smog alert children kept inside.

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Still reared in captivity

I originally wrote this article for the Guardian in 2004, on leaving the Children’s Play Council (now Play England). Last weekend’s Big Garden Birdwatch prompted me to ask how much the picture it painted has changed in the intervening decade or so. First, I will share the article itself, followed by some reflections.

 

Bred in captivity [2004]

This weekend saw the Big Garden Birdwatch, a nationwide survey that has been organised by the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds since 1979. But I can’t help contemplating a survey of a different species: a Big Outdoor Child Watch.

I know only too well what it would find. Chicks are now pretty much extinct, outside their own nest areas and a shrinking number of poorly maintained reserves. Juveniles, common in the 1970s, declined in numbers throughout the 1980s and are now rarely seen away from their parents, except in impoverished areas. And adolescents, though not yet endangered, are seen as pests and controlled accordingly. In sum, children and young people are fast disappearing from the outdoor environment, even though for most this is their preferred habitat.

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First ever area-wide evaluation of street play proves its potential

Street play initiatives can make a real difference to the lives of thousands of children and families across an urban area. This was the key message of the first ever area-wide study of a street play programme, which I carried out for Hackney Council. My evaluation – launched by the London Borough last Friday – also revealed that schemes have caused minimal levels of traffic disruption, and have faced very little local opposition.

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Aussies push to expand the horizons of childhood

This post shares news of more positive developments in Australia, including a new video promoting street play, and some new state-wide networks that aim to reconnect children with nature.

First, street play: this video is from Gavin Fairbrother and the OPAL (Obesity Prevention and Lifestyle) project based at Campbelltown in South Australia, and spreads the word about the potential of the model originally drawn up by Playing Out here in the UK.

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Why would you want to let your child play out in the street?

Boy in streetEven a generation ago, most parents would have greeted this question with blank faces. Playing out was just what kids did – why would you need a reason? Of course, things are different today – for all sorts of reasons. In almost all neighbourhoods, parents need to take a stand, and to resist the norm of parenting that says being a good parent means rearing your child in captivity.

For parents who come together to set up Playing Out road closure projects, taking this stand means extra commitments: talking to neighbours, liaising with the Council, setting up rotas, and maybe spending a couple of hours a week out in the street. So, to rework my opening question: why do parents get involved in organising road closures for play?

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When street play went primetime

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).

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Street play: can you have too much of it?

Road closed signI 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.

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