Hey Ottawa, let your kids play in the street!

Play in the streetA few weeks ago we spent an entire Saturday morning standing around outside with some neighbours while our children played up and down the sidewalk. They tossed balls, rode bikes, found a bunch of new uses for the recycling boxes and hauled each other around in a wagon. The adults sipped coffee and the kids ate lunch in a driveway, with each mom bringing out some edible odds and ends. We all said hello to whoever walked by.

The to-do lists got tossed aside in favour of simple pleasures and play.

Having moved to our home from an apartment on King Edward Avenue near Rideau Street, these moments are appreciated.  It was a lovely morning and the kind that I suspect some neighbourhoods don’t see too much of anymore, as people are holed up in backyards and cars or are just plain afraid of letting their children go beyond a guarded grassy enclosure.

As a kid, I spent a lot of time playing on the street (no sidewalks). We had parades, played road hockey and walked along with Freezies, often with no adult accompaniment. The little one isn’t quite old enough for that (and unfortunately these days I might get a visit from CAS if I let her – whole other post), but although we have a backyard, we often find ourselves playing along the street. It just seems more friendly…and fun…and goes a long way in creating that kind of community I want my kid to grow up in.

Back in March I shared a link on Twitter to an article in the New York Times about a New York City play street in the Bronx, noting that it was a great idea for urban neighbourhoods with lots of families and limited green space.

Basically, a play street is a street that is closed to cars so kids can play. They can skateboard, skip, play tag or simply loiter. Some play streets have basketball nets, toys or craft supplies (here’s a  Streetfilms video about a play street in Queens). It’s a great concept for neighbourhoods filled with high-rises and small yards. They’re especially wonderful in underprivileged and high crime neighbourhoods, where children desperately need a safe place to just be outside and be kids. There are more than a dozen official play streets in New York City and other urban centres are starting to catch on to the idea…including Ottawa!

On Friday, June 12, from 5 p.m. to 7 p.m., Cambridge Street in Centretown West, from Gladstone Avenue to Christie Street, will be closed to traffic. The event, part of a community barbeque hosted by Cambridge Public School, will include a bike rodeo, hula hooping, hopscotch and more. The neighbourhood already has plans for another play street is July on Eccles Street. (You can learn a little more about this community in my  Q&A with its city councillor Diane Holmes.)

Sidewalks are great, but I really hope we soon see a lot more of these play street in Ottawa!

I’ll bring the Freezies!

Check out the links below for more info about play streets…

Get out and play! “Play streets” coming to Dalhousie this summer (Centretown Buzz)

New York City’s Play Street Program

Why City Kids Need to Play in the Street (The Atlantic Cities)

Council to close roads to allow children to play safely (The Telegraph)

P.S. On a related note, Sunday Bike Days are happening in Ottawa and Gatineau until the Labour Day weekend. Every Sunday morning parts of the parkways are closed to traffic.

  2 comments for “Hey Ottawa, let your kids play in the street!

  1. June 13 at 2:02 pm

    How have I never heard of play streets? What a great idea! So important to create a greater sense of community within individual neighbourhoods.

    • June 13 at 9:45 pm

      Seems like an idea that would be relatively cheap and easy for cities to implement. I suspect there are quite a few streets in Ottawa that could be closed occasionally with little to no impact on traffic. Hopefully some of the other community associations pick up on this.

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