Monday 10 August 2015

Play on our mean streets

Escalator to the gym
Great to see so many enthusiastic cyclists as you enter Kings Heath.  Sadly they are lined up on bike machines looking out of a shop window in a gym, and not so many on the street - lots of people want to ride bikes, walk and run, but apparently would rather do it indoors.  The car park behind the gym is full.   Why aren't they on our streets, biking, running, walking?  Is it because people don't feel safe on our streets, or that it's just not as warm & friendly as in a gym?

Whether you enjoy hanging out in a gym or not, as an adult the gym is one of many spaces you can meet others, do what you enjoy.  Children and young people have fewer spaces for them to use and meet up (like private gyms, youth clubs, libraries...).  What's more young people are often treated with suspicion, and feel far from welcome, even in Kings Heath (see The Good Childhood conversation report 2013)

What adds to it is the fear all parents have leaving children either 'under-supervised' or 'unsupervised'.  How safe do you feel when your children play in a park?  How close do you have to be?  And ultimately, if something went wrong, was it because you had been acting as an irresponsible parent?  When my kids get on their bikes I have contradictory feelings - they have independence to travel and play, but they're also at more risk of injury.

National Playday 2015 has just past - over the last three years we've been organising street closures so children can play on National Playday on their own streets - It's a strange feeling watching children walk out, unguarded, into a road, but it's also liberating to let them, even on only a few days a year.  This year we've extended our programme of street closures, with the support of Birmingham City Council and Active Parks.  This year there are 12 closures planned on 9 streets, organised by people living on the streets themselves, and to do what they want, supporting play and bringing communities together.  It's still a pretty humble beginning, but together with events like The Big Lunch, and the re-established Kings Heath Street Festival, and the work of organisations like Parks for Play, there are more opportunities, but still a long way to go to turn our mean streets into safe friendly places every day of the year.

Some images from this years Playing out:
Start of National Playday on Leighton Road

Leighton road, with children, no cars

Woodville in full swing
Woodville Road has been 'playing out' 7 times in the last 3 years
Football, archery, bikes, Wheelers Lane playing out
Woodcraft folk join in for the third Wheelers Lane 'playing out'

Roads involved in this year's Birmingham 'playing out':

Birchwood Road, Blenheim Road, Gaddesby Road, Leighton Road, Louise Lorne Road, Ritchie Close, Sovereign Road, Wheelers Lane, Woodville Road

Read more: Play more on playday


  1. Very nice article.
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  2. I bet no one would get the meaning of it the first time. After they realize they will definitely use stairs.
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  3. Wow, they seem to be really very serious about fitness to do this.
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