In New York City, 97 out of 188 neighborhoods do not provide enough play space for children. Meanwhile, one in four children is obese. In a city where space is at a premium and there simply isn’t enough room in some areas for new parks and playgrounds, how can we ensure that more children are able to play outside?
We have two words for you: Play streets. An initiative of Transportation Alternatives, in partnership with the Strategic Alliance for Health, play streets repurpose residential streets as spaces for communities to gather and play. Closed to cars at regularly scheduled times, a play street can be in operation for one day a week, or, as is the case with some play streets in front of schools, every school day.
More and more people are finding that the most effective way to combat childhood obesity is not by lecturing about good health, but by making healthy living a no-brainer. A play street makes it easy to let your child run around outside, just as a nearby farmer’s market makes it easy to buy fresh fruits and veggies.
Play streets also build community by providing neighbors with a regularly scheduled time to socialize. Three years ago, residents of Jackson Heights established a play street as a way to address their community’s lack of open spaces. They have enjoyed the experience so much that they recently transformed their play street from a once-a-week affair during the summer to a daily event during July and August. Over 200 people attended a meeting to show their support, including elected officials.
Some neighborhoods have used play streets to combat crime by overwhelming perceptions of danger with positive activities. One citizen advocate in Brooklyn directly asked neighborhood drug dealers and gang members if they could refrain from conducting their business on or near a play street—and to many residents’ surprise, they agreed. Currently, the Police Athletic League runs about 60 play streets during the summer, most in neighborhoods with high rates of crime.
Play streets are a brilliantly simple initiative to promote outdoor play, personal health, and community development—all in one fell swoop. We hope more cities follow suit!
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Photo courtesy of Transportation Alternatives.