Australian children are spending less time outdoors in unstructured play than at any other time in history and nearly one in 2 Australians don't have neighbours they can call for help (Australian Psychology Society, 2018).
How do we recreate the open, connected communities that previously supported our mental and physical health, while ensuring our children's safety?
Countries such as the Netherlands and the UK have provided some inspiration in this area. In the Netherlands, street play is normalised and shared zones allow for cars, bikes and children to share and have equal access to spaces. Playing Out in partnership with Bristol Council in the UK have supported the temporary closure of local streets for ten years, adopting an annual permit for residents to close down streets regularly throughout a year.
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73% of adults say they played on the street when they were young. Only 24% of their kids do. (Planet Ark, 2011)
1 in 3 adults don't have neighbours they see or hear from on a monthly basis. (Australian Psychology Society Report, 2018)
1 in 4 adults are lonely, which leads to increased depression and social anxiety. (The Australian Loneliness Report, 2018)
In communities where people actively engage with others, perceive their neighbourhoods to be safe and have a positive sense of belonging, children's safety, health and wellbeing are enhanced. (Lush &Boddy, 2014)
It's often a long and complicated process for communities to get council approval to close their street, even for a couple of hours on a Sunday afternoon. Considering all the legal, insurance, risk management and traffic control issues involved, most people don't have the motivation, time, skills and resources to see it through.
Through the 1000 Play Streets pilot, Play Australia aims to create more active and connected communities, where children and families get outside to play and get to know their neighbours.
Play Streets creates a time for neighbours of all ages to come together on their local street and strengthen community bonds. It’s an important opportunity to enjoy free play, in a setting that is usually dominated by cars. It’s about building feelings of safety and belonging, making friends and having fun.
Council requirements to approve temporary resident-led street closures vary across the board. Generally, applicants need to obtain agreement from 50-80% of residents and road closures must occur during off-peak times in quiet streets, which excludes bus routes and main roads. This all helps to avoid traffic disruption and maintain safe environments for Play Streets.
The pilot involves five councils in three states regularly opening up streets for play in at least two locations each. The Centre for Sport and Social impact at Latrobe University is conducting an evaluation to assess the extent to which the communities are connecting, improving health and increasing physical activity.
Play streets in practice
In Western Australia, Rae Street has been flying the flag, hosting play streets for three years. With support from the City of Vincent, the street is temporarily closed to traffic and open to play from 3-5pm one Sunday each month.
- Focusing on Infrastructure and Equipment was crucial to the development of this project. Whilst street play can happen informally around Australia, the pilot is about better understanding the role councils can play in making it as easy as possible for residents to initiate their own temporary road closures and participate in regular Play Streets.
- Getting the system right was important for the planning of Play Streets. A Growth Plan was developed to support the successful implementation of the Play Streets movement.
- To ensure partners were working together Play Australia developed a Council Engagement Plan that helped provide consistent communication with councils. The state level advocacy plan, terms of reference and talking with council insurers also helped bring partners together. Promoting the benefits to the community also helped engage neighbourhoods and encourage a community-led approach for sustainability. These unified behaviours were a key driver in establishing the 1000 Play Streets Project.
- Learning from others such as the Netherlands and the UK helped inform the application of this program in the Australian context.
Play Australia aims to have completed the pilot and created a toolkit available for Australian local government authorities with recommendations and case studies to support the development of a Play Street permit system that empowers and supports community-led action. The longer-term vision is to activate 1000 streets by 2025.
"It's about building neighbourhoods, so people feel safe to be active outside their homes," said Barb Champion, Executive Director at Play Australia.
For further information contact the Participation Design team at Sport Australia at firstname.lastname@example.org