Let’s get out and play!

Kids being able to play outdoors is such an allround good thing that it should be protected as a right, and fought for with at least as much passion as, say, street carparking. The UK has just boosted street play – hooray!


There’s a mountain of rocksolid research that demonstrates the benefits of outdoor free play for kids, for families, for communities. Some recent stuff summarised here by UK charity Playing Out.

(And in case you’re wondering, “Why isn’t it enough just to go to the park? there’s great stuff in parks“, there are awfully good reasons here from Playing Out)

The UK has long had a special Traffic Order (local rule) which allows a temporary closure of a street so kids can get outdoors a bit.

But as the Department for Transport (DfT) says:

The process for making Play Street Traffic Regulation Orders (TROs) has been a costly barrier for parents because of the requirement to advertise them.

But the DfT has found an easier way to help people create regular play streets.

The department has today issued advice to councils, enabling them to make ‘special event’ orders, which mean roads can be temporarily closed to enable children’s play – and these do not need to be advertised.

It’ll now be that much easier Read the press release here.

Why can’t play streets just be a normal thing?

When you look at all this magnificence you wonder why it hasn’t been the norm just to organise these things. You think “Couldn’t we just check in with the neighbours, and then just do it?! Why do we need to widely (and expensively) advertise publicly to every (wo)man and their dog?”

But then, amazingly, you read this kind of stuff.

And then we see backlash against survivable speed limits in built-up areas, people determined to fight for their right to drive through places as fast as legally possible. So yes, it’s important to enshrine people’s right to use the streets just sometimes for anything other than driving.

Play streets: nation building

Not that we need more encouragement, but…

Turns out if we want to be the kind of society where we never again have to cry “they are us” and “this is not us”, never ever again, if we want to be a country where difference (age, gender, skin, clothes, religion) brings us together, Play Streets are brilliant. Quite simply, they casually, quietly, sustainably help us all get on better. Nobody has to do anything special, we can just come together and be humans together with a shared commonality: kids love playing out.
(See for example: this lovely story on Playing Out’s Parent and Resident Stories page.)

How’d this win happen in the UK?

The special improvement to the Traffic Order didn’t come out of nowhere. Playing Out have been advocating and lobbying hard, with many other pro-people and pro-environment groups. Read how they won this.

Let’s have some of that here!

FYI there is no NZ equivalent of the Play Street traffic order!
To do even a little street closure legally takes thousands of dollars of traffic management (cones, diversion signs, qualified people in high-vis) unless you’re willing to thumb your nose at the law and do it illegally (wheelibins, cross-parked cars). This is a real turn-off for many keen communities, and councils.

Practical things you can do: ask those in power (and wannabes)

This election, ask your candidates what they’ll do to make streets safer for local kids (and thereby everyone else!)

  • Listen for how they talk about the different uses of street space (parking, driving, deliveries, speeds, walking, crossing, play).
  • Listen for what things are framed as rights vs what’s framed as rare treats we should be grateful to get.
  • Listen for how they talk about “bringing the community with us” or “consulting” or “consensus” when it comes to change.
    And make sure everyone can hear the answers!

The Wellington Public Health Association is having a meet the candidates event on 18th September – a good occasion to ask.

One to watch: two candidate scorecard initiatives will be asking related questions because issues of human-friendly streets and environments hospitable to outdoor free play go right to the heart of public health, and right to more climate-friendly neighbourhoods. Keep an eye out for the scorecards being published (the climate scorecard survey is already with candidates).

Practical things you can do: organise grassroots!

Talk with your neighbours, school, playcentre or kindy, and council, about play streets in your hood. You could mention that Australia is funding 1000 of them this month!


Image credits:
Banner and in-text image both by Playing Out

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