In The Death and Life of Great American Cities, Jane Jacobs mentions numerous times that kids need streets and sidewalks to play on. That might seem like a crazy idea to today’s (“helicopter”) parents, but it’s pretty common historically, as well as currently in other parts of the world. And even in my own case, while growing up in a LA suburb I spent a lot of time playing hockey — among other things — in the street near my home.
In that vein, The Atlantic Cities’ Sarah Goodyear recently articulated an argument on why kids actually benefit from playing in the street.
Traditional street play is good for kids, and fun for kids, precisely because it allows them to figure out how to use their environment in creative ways on their own, or maybe with the help of adults who are doing their own socializing on the street. Kids call the shots themselves, making a tree first base and a manhole cover second and the streetlamp third. They figure out how to make fair teams, learn which scoring systems work and which don’t. They learn which grown-ups they can count on to retrieve a lost ball, and how to knock an errant football down from the branches of a tree. They get to know each other by creating something together.
Goodyear’s argument hinges on her previous article about jaywalking, which points out that streets historically have been used by people, not cars. The argument also fits well with Jacobs’ belief that playing in the streets helps kids learn to critically assess and respond to adults, danger, other kids, and a variety of other stimuli.
Provo’s streets aren’t fantastic for playing on, and the grid system doesn’t exactly help that. But I believe that if we continue to try to think of streets as places for people and cars, kids will gradually have a more engaging environment in which to play.