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In our experience, small, personal thoughts and actions are often the most powerful, and they’re a good place to begin if life’s too busy or you don’t feel like organising anything. Sitting on your front step with your children and saying hello to people who pass, chalking some pictures together on the pavement, getting bikes and scooters out for young children, or even just starting to think differently about your street are all simple starting points. Here are some ideas and suggestions:
Or in your front garden or on the pavement. Why not have cup of tea or bring a newspaper – it can help you feel more comfortable. This is your space. Observe its rhythms and inhabitants. Smile and say hello to people as they pass. Encourage light conversation if it feels okay to do so.
Is it busy and interesting? Do you love the way the sun streams through in the late afternoon? Consider developing or encouraging what you already enjoy. If you like a neighbour’s window box, you might want to let them know and get some planters or window boxes for your own house. If you enjoy the sound of children playing nearby, let them know. Notice how people already use the street and whether children are out on their own at all. As you walk around your neighbourhood, start to notice, or even draw, write about or take photos of what you see and share these with others as a way to start a conversation.
If you are in the house during the day and feel secure enough to do this, the open door sends a signal to neighbours and passers-by that you are at home and that there are ‘eyes on the street’. It may also encourage your neighbours to follow suit, making the street feel safer and more lived-in.
Or within an agreed area of the front garden, pavement or neighbourhood. Sitting out with younger children is an opportunity to develop their road safety, ‘street wisdom’ and social skills. As confidence grows or if they are older, you could be inside with the front door open and check on them from time to time. Chalk and bubbles are great for keeping them closer to home – or let them bring their favourite toys out the front.
Scooters and roller skates work well on the pavement and bikes too. Especially for younger children. It’s important to stop when people are walking along of course. But this in itself can teach children about the shared use of space and respecting the needs of others.
Chalk is an inexpensive and temporary way for you and your children to make to make your mark in and invite play and interaction in a place. It washes away quickly with rain and time or if you prefer, with a little water on a brush. Keep your chalking to public pavements and street surfaces, or agree permission with owners if chalking on walls or private property. Have a look at these pages for some inspiration.
Use any excuse to get to know your neighbours. Offer help with unloading cars or bringing in bins, getting in and out of tight parking spaces and so on. Borrow a cup of sugar or offload that extra cabbage or outgrown children’s toy. Talk about the weather. Most people enjoy the attention if you take genuine interest. If they seem really uncomfortable, that is good to know too…
If you persistently get a negative response from neighbours despite friendly approaches or are criticised for letting your children play out on the pavement, 10 Good Reasons and Possible Concerns may give you some encouragement.
Research has shown that car traffic can have a negative impact on how we feel about our streets and neighbours- you can see a summary in this short video. This ‘invisible harm’ can make us feel unsafe and retreat from the street. This retreat then increases the sense of isolation and fearfulness for many people, which in turn increases their reliance on car use. It becomes a cycle.When you are visible to drivers, it may help them to remember to slow down because people live on your street (David Engwicht has developed the concept of ‘mental speed bumps’). Speeding traffic and dangerous driving are a threat and barrier to play and cycling, so watch and share the Room 13 children’s Safer Streets film to help communicate the true cost.
The activities listed above and things like them can help change things on your street. It’s courageous and valuable to simply reclaim some of the space out the front of your home.