Play Streets Are Turning Neighborhoods Into Communities

It's more than just about play, it's about building community


(Maria Sbytova  /

Do you remember playing stickball in the street? Or jumping rope? Or playing hopscotch? Neighborhood streets used to be children's playgrounds and one organization wants to bring that back one street at a time.

Play streets is a global movement to create public play spaces by temporarily closing local streets to traffic so that children and their parents can play and socialize together, have a barbeque, a box car race, or mini fair outside.

Playing is important but community building is the end game of Play Streets which began in the UK in Bristol in 2009 with just one street. Encouraged by the initial success, the idea grew and became a movement called Playing Out. It really took off in 2011 with support from The Funding Network and now thousands of people across the UK are involved.

Global Play Streets was born from that effort and moved across the pond to US communities in San Francisco, Chicago, Seattle and is still growing. Then Play Streets moved down under to Australia where it rolled out in Victoria and South Australia and is spreading like wildfire.

Valli Morphett, the project lead and chief executive of CoDesign Studios initiated Play Streets Australia because she wanted to give people a place to have street meetings, parties or simply a place for children to play for a few hours.

She told ABC Radio Brisbane, "Contemporary society has shifted and suburbs are having higher levels of isolation than ever before and kids aren't playing outside as much either."

Morphett said that even though society is changing and our tastes in entertainment are changing, Play Streets are providing opportunities to get people back out in the streets playing.

You can bring Play Streets to your street in your neighborhood too. Get a group of neighbors together to organize and you can even include local schools or boy scouts and girl guides groups to help plan your activities.

You just can't put up a sign and close your street to traffic there is a process to be followed. Play Streets Australia (or in your country) offers a step-by-step Toolkit that makes planning easy and fun.

The local Play Streets organization works with local residents to handle the necessary paperwork and liaise with local councils so that road closure rules are followed. "It's not about rolling a wheelie bin across the street — there are things that need to be done," Morphett said. She explained that most councils were receptive to the idea and most make it easy to close the street. It is obviously easier to close an all residential street but Play Streets have occurred in busy cities too.

For some communities, it is a one-time event but some Play Streets are set up on a more frequent basis. Neighbors get to meet each other and form connections. Play streets allow neighbors to meet each other and form connections.

The frequency is not as important as the concept of building community one street at a time.

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