July 26, 2011 Kerala Taylor

Bright ideas: Streets for playing, not just for driving

Play is a mindset. It shouldn't be restricted to the playground; neither should it be restricted to children. Play is for everyone and can happen everywhere!

This was the philosophy that drove our recent work at last week's re: Streets charrette, which brought together urban planners, landscape architects, environmentalists, city officials, and play advocates from across the country to "explore the future of streets and what America's roadways would be like if they were designed for living, instead of driving."

One of our challenges as part of the "Play and Recreation" working group was to redesign a residential street to offer play opportunities to neighbors aged 0 to 100. We all agreed that it was important to design the street so that cars and playing families could co-exist, but that it was also important for the street to close periodically so that neighbors could gather and play without the interference of cars. 

What can we add to a street to make it more playful? Here are a few ideas:

  • Trees for shade and nature play.
  • Paint! Paint is cheap and can not only beautify a street but can also be used to create basketball courts, four-square, and other games that encourage physical activity and intergenerational play.
  • Seating and storage. Creating spaces to gather and socialize is essential. We discussed benches that offer storage space to store balls, art supplies, and loose parts for pop-up playgrounds.  
  • Game equipment like basketball hoops, outdoor ping pong tables, and hockey nets.
  • Traffic calming measures like sidewalk extensions that can also house planters and benches, bollards to place at each end of the street during closure (can they double as drums?), and signage to slow cars.
  • Vertical elements -- why not put handholds on fences, walls, and tree guards to encourage climbing, or let fences double as outdoor chalkboards for public art?
  • Sand and water play. A spigot or sprinkler? A sidewalk sandbox?

Most of these ideas are things that neighbors can build, create, or install themselves. We also discussed creating a "Play Street Kit," complete with game stencils; DIY instructions for building sandboxes and storage benches; and other play elements. What would you like to see included in this kit? What other ideas do you have for making your street more playful?


bright ideas, urban planning, play street, family, play outdoors, neighborhood