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An international academic journal has published a new case study and history of the grassroots street play movement in the UK, which began to take off around ten years ago.  The paper sets out the importance of street play for children, the reasons for its decline and the arguments for restoring it as part of everyday life, as well as the recent history of play streets in the UK and beyond.

devonshire road play streetPlaying Out: A grassroots street play revolution, by Alice Ferguson, a founding member and managing director of Playing Out CIC, appears in the March 2019 issue of Cities and Health.  She tells the story of how shockingly high deaths and injuries of children hit by motor cars from the 1920s gradually led to the near disappearance of children playing out, or even being allowed to leave their homes unaccompanied, depriving them of an important element in the process of growing up.  To counteract this from the 1930s on Play Streets were created in some towns and cities, but these were abandoned in the 1970s when it appeared that cars had won the battle for space on residential streets.  She summarises the situation thus:

In a nutshell, since 1980, car ownership and traffic volume have both more than doubled and residential streets have become so physically and psychologically dominated by cars that people – and children in particular – have been pushed out of the space. The negative social impact of heavy traffic in residential streets has been clearly shown and it can be assumed that this impact is even greater for children, who may not even be able to cross their own road to call on a friend. We know that it is real traffic danger, not imagined ‘stranger danger’ that is parents’ main concern  contrary to what the media would have us believe.

Since Alice Ferguson and a neighbour began with a direct action campaign in Bristol in 2009, the playing out movement has grown, so that by 2018 eight hundred street communities across the UK had self-organised regular playing out sessions, directly benefitting an estimated 24,000 children.

Research has shown benefits in four main areas:

  • Improving children’s health and well-being
  • Improving community cohesion
  • Increasing ‘active citizenship’
  • Bringing about longer-term culture change.

Palmers Green and Enfield more widely now have some well established play streets.  A pioneering play street was set up in Devonshire Road by Clare Rogers some five years ago (see the photograph) and was the first step in her reappraisal of the function of urban streets - she's now a leading member of Better Streets for Enfield, a group that campaigns for "streets that are friendly to people, not just traffic".  One of their aims is to remove the almost total domination by cars of many residential streets that are not main roads, so that they can resume their important social function - not just for kids, but for all of us.

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