May 26, 2011 Kerala Taylor

Play Haters! Motoring groups condemn play streets

Close a street. Let kids play. It’s a brilliantly simple concept that has enjoyed success in San Francisco; New York; Bogotá, Colombia; and Bristol, UK, among other cities.

Now, UK health minister Anne Milton is talking about enacting “play streets” across the country to help tackle its childhood obesity problem. In fact, the idea isn’t new: According to the BBC, the UK had over 700 play streets in the 1950s, but the idea “slowly died out.”

Milton has discussed closing certain streets on Sundays as part of a national effort to get kids and families moving, provide more space for kids to play, and set aside regular time for neighbors to convene and socialize.

It sounds like a no-brainer, but the proposal is drawing its share of criticism. Its most vehement opponent, Association of British Drivers' chairman Brian Gregory, told Autoblog UK, "It's not so long ago that the government assured us it was ending the war on the motorist. We pay several times over to use our roads, not be banned from them.”

Says Claire Armstrong, spokeswoman for Safe Speed, "It may also deprive many people, including those without children, from having proper, necessary and rightful access [to roads] when there are such few alternatives.”

While RAC Foundation Director Stephen Glaister concedes that “promoting places to play is a great idea,” he insists that “children need to be outside on more than one day a week – and the middle of the road is not the best place."

Glaister is absolutely right that children need to be outside more, and that’s why it’s important to provide them with as many accessible, affordable, community-oriented opportunities to unplug as possible. And many children will contend that the middle of the road is a wonderful place to play – if those pesky cars don’t get in the way!

Play streets can be—and are being—organized locally, but to get an entire country behind a play street initiative would help highlight the importance of play to our children’s health, and also set a significant precedent for other countries, states, and cities to follow.

Sign our online petition to express your support for play streets and to convince the opposition that a countrywide initiative does not have to infringe on motorists’ rights!

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