Kids Playing in the Streets

By Mark T. Mitchell for FRONT PORCH REPUBLIC

Here’s an intriguing example of how a community is attempting to create space for children to play.

Opening the streets to children means closing them to cars, and that’s why these events are precisely that – special events, rather than common practices. When it comes to who has priority when accessing our roads, we now take it as a given in our society that cars are king. But when you watch the video on Playing Out’s site, you start to wonder why we tolerate the conditions we live under so meekly.

As children run and wheel and dance their way across the liberated asphalt, the adults on the street – mostly mothers — look on and smile. The things they say bring home just how much we lose when we give the streets to cars, in both urban and dense suburban settings.

Safe and active streets are central to the thought of Jane Jacobs. In her book, The Death and Life of the Great American Cities, she argues that sidewalks must be wide enough to accommodate children at play. Sidewalks are for living not simply providing passage from one place to another. Active and vibrant streets, where people choose to spend time, are essential to successful urban areas. Can cars be accommodated? Slow traffic (induced by narrow streets), parallel parking (which provides a buffer between the sidewalk and the street), and wide sidewalks can create a street space that is conducive to both an active and playful street life as well as the movement of cars. But that is a design issue that is not easily accomplished once the buildings are up and the streets are constructed. In the meantime, some communities are barring cars every once in a while so the neighborhood can taste the salutary effects of a healthy street life.

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