In the early stages of the Playing Out project, before it even was a project, Amy Rose and I talked endlessly around the idea of street play and why it was important. We read Jane Jacobs, Christopher Alexander, David Engwicht, Tim Gill and others – all bolstering our instinct that, for children living in the city, having the freedom to play out semi-independently on your own street has deep and wide-reaching benefits that cannot be met through structured, supervised activities.
Through these early conversations, we came up with a list of Ten Good Reasons for street play. Since then, after talking to lots of other people and seeing the playing out model working, we have realized there are many more. However, these original ten still seem to hold true and even though some of them (for example, parents being able to ‘get on with normal life’ whilst children play out) refer mainly to ‘natural’ rather than ‘organised’ street play, many are also true for streets doing regular, stewarded playing out sessions.
In particular, children are seizing the opportunity for ‘big’, active play – running, cycling, scooting, skateboarding, roller-blading – without even thinking about the fact they are gaining valuable minutes and hours of physical activity. We have also had many reports of new friendships being formed amongst neighbours – both children and adults – and of people feeling that their street is a safer, friendlier place to be. Even within the semi-structured situation of a playing out session, children seem fairly oblivious to the adult presence and are self-organising and using their imagination to respond to the space creatively. At this recent session in Easton, Bristol, children of all ages organised their own bike and running races whilst the adults were busy stewarding and getting to know each other. They look as if they played out together every day, but in fact it was the first time many of them had met.
Encouragingly, we are also hearing from parents that since doing playing out sessions, children are calling for each other after school and playing out on the pavement. This is all anecdotal evidence at the moment but we are hoping that a University of Bristol study over the next year will verify this effect. We are aware that the current model is not the long-term answer and look forward to the day we can ditch the hi-viz vests, but until a real culture of playing out is restored it is good to feel that there is a way to realize some of the benefits of street play right now.