Kids Playing in the Streets

by Mark T. Mitchell on February 28, 2013 · 7 comments <span>Print this article</span> Print this article

in Short

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.

{ 7 comments… read them below or add one }

avatar Benjamin P. Glaser February 28, 2013 at 11:10 am

Half the fun of playing in the street when I was a kid was dodging cars.

avatar love the girls March 1, 2013 at 3:41 pm

The better solution is cars in the street which is their natural domain and a wide open space in the back running down between the houses.

The front porch needs to move to the back and connect with neighbors behind.

avatar Michael P. Ryan March 2, 2013 at 11:29 pm

Better you should get parents out of the lives of their children.

What you forget is that most of those cars on the modern streets are ferrying children to all the adult-organized activities designed not for the children’s growth process, except as an unintended consequence, but rather for getting the children into an elite college.

Ah, for the joys of stickball on the streets of Brooklyn in the 1960′s! The passing cars were an integral part of the experience.

avatar Jacob March 3, 2013 at 2:36 pm

I’m not sure green space behind the house is the best solution. Generally, the best formula is when kids play where people walk, do business, and are generally active. This way, people just going about their daily business (tending shop, buying a sandwich, etc.) can supervise them and what’s going on on the street. Some mothers will come out to intentionally supervise, and they can meet not only other mothers (which could happen just as well in a separated green space), but also the neighborhood “regulars,” whether it be shopkeepers, the the guy who always walks to the nearby coffee shop, etc. The street can unify the neighborhood the way a green space separated from the business of the street can’t. And moving the front porch to the back would likely shift the focus on the house, meaning even fewer eyes on the street – not a good thing.

avatar love the girls March 4, 2013 at 6:47 pm

Jacob,

It’s not a matter of shifting focus, but recognizing where the focus has been shifted and developing community based on that shift.

As it stands people already have moved to the back of the house and so what needs to be done is the garages off the alleys need to be torn down and moved to the front, with the alleys being in turn turned into common pedestrian paths with low walls along the back yards. And better yet condemn the back 10 feet of property of each neighbor and create a 35′ common area. 10′+15′ alley+10′.

avatar Tony Esolen March 8, 2013 at 11:54 pm

I think Jane Jacobs was quite right, and though I think the idea of a greenway along the back of a row of houses would be better than what we have, it still does not allow for the full and varied life of a street full of walkers, children playing, and people doing business. Children unite a neighborhood, and, as Jacobs saw, are a really effective deterrent to crime, because they are everywhere, and they notice everything. It’s playgrounds rather that, as she noted, became attractions for criminals and predators upon children.

avatar love the girls March 9, 2013 at 11:35 pm

Tony Esolen writes : “it still does not allow for the full and varied life of a street full of walkers, children playing, and people doing business. ”

Yes it does, or at least far more full and varied than can ever be accomplished on the street side, because the green becomes the new pedestrian path, and a far better one because of its separation from the hard surfaces the predominate the street and sidewalk.

Even in neighborhoods with moderate density and very little moving car traffic the streets are dead. Porches and balconies go unused. The problem is not the cars, the problem is a change in focus away from the streets. The article would be far more realistic if the street had been closed off for a few months because then we could have seen the novelty wear off and see how people actually would treat the street given the chance to use it.

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