Monday, 7 June 2010

Play Streets: Timeline

Taverner Miller, MP for Colchester, tells the House of Common’s the plight of 12-year-old George Dunn who was sent to prison for five days under the Police Act for playing rounders in the street. Miller explains that George was singled out from the other children as the others, ‘were old enough and their legs were long enough to run away; but the little one, with the shortest legs, was captured.’

The New York Times runs the headline ‘Plan [for] Safe Streets for Children’s Play’ in response to city officials addressing childrens use of the streets for play.

Lord Lamington tells the House of Lords, ‘[Children] have not many recreation grounds in London and it is only natural that they should play in the streets’.

The New York Times tells its readers, ‘Children must play, and children, if they live in the cities, must play in the streets.’New York City’s Police Commissioner closes 29 city blocks to serve as playgrounds, prohibiting traffic in the afternoons, every day during summer except Sunday (the Police Athletic League charity takes over the running of the Play Streets summer programme in 1936).

An NYC police officer, in defense of Play Streets, tells the New York Times, ‘It is only natural that children should want to play and if the city refuses to provide playgrounds for them, they are going to play in the streets.’

1924 to 1933
In England and Wales over 12,000 children aged under fifteen years are killed by motor vehicles.

Nancy Astor tells the House of Commons, ‘There is no more pitiable sight in life than a child which has been arrested for playing in the street. Of all the pitiable sights that I have seen that is the most pitiable. Though these children may be fined, we stand convicted.’

Leslie Hore-Belisha’s becomes the UK’s Minister of Transport. With a lack of inner-city playgrounds combined with rising numbers of child trafficrelated fatalities, he looks to the USA for inspiration and imports the Play Street model.

According to criminal statistics of the time, over 2,000 young people under the age of seventeen are prosecuted for playing in the streets.

A limited Play Street experiment in the Metropolitan boroughs of Southwark and Paddington is deemed successful by Hore-Belisha.

Ahead of UK-wide legislation, a private bill enables 200 Play Streets in Manchester and Salford.

The Street Playgrounds bill receives Royal Assent in July. It allows Local Authorities to designate roads as Play Streets. Their powers include restricting traffic between certain hours or prohibiting it completely. The bill also makes allowances for ‘reasonable access to premises situated on or adjacent to the road’.

The average residential street in London has 5 parked cars on it.

17 Local Authorities create Play Streets under the 1938 Act with 8 more under consideration by the Minister for Transport (including Bethnal Green and Holborn Metropolitan Borough). In London, Play Streets are up and running in;

  • Chelsea Metropolitan Borough (amalgamated in 1965 with Kensington Royal Borough)
  • Hampstead Metropolitan Borough (amalgamated in 1965 with Holborn and St Pancras boroughs to form the London borough of Camden)
  • Shoreditch Metropolitan Borough (amalgamated in 1965 with Hackney and Stoke Newington boroughs to form the London borough of Hackney)
  • Metropolitan Borough of Westminster (amalgamated in 1965 with the Metropolitan Borough of Paddington and the Metropolitan Borough of St Marylebone to form the City of London).

Play Streets in England and Wales total 750. As car ownership booms, Ernest Marples, Minister for Transport comments that he is receiving growing complaints about the number of parked cars on Play Streets.

The average residential street in London has 20 parked cars on it.

The Bishop of Stepney, Trevor Huddlestone tells The Times that Britain prefers motor cars to children and shows it ‘by cluttering up Play Streets with parked cars.’

New York’s Play Streets continue to thrive. Streets around the prestigious Rockefeller Centre are transformed into a Play Street for the city’s children.

Play Streets are all but forgotten. A number of streets retain the signage and accompanying traffic restrictions but resident’s parked cars leave no space for play. In contrast, the number of New York’s Play Streets closed to traffic each summer increases during this decade.

By the end of the century there are 21-million cars in the UK compared to the start of the century when there were 8,000. The Department for Transport forecasts that car ownership will increase by 46% between 1996 and 2031.

Farley Bank, a cul-de-sac in Hastings is designated as a Play Street giving children traffic-free space for play between 8am and sunset.

The Manchester Evening News reports that a new housing development is incorporating ‘family orientated “Play Streets”’ into the overall design.

Play Streets feature in a new housing development in Redditch in the midlands.

London Play begins 3-year Street Play project funded by the Big Lottery. A forum is established to look at road safety issues arising from its Lottery funded Street Play Parties and looks at reestablishing Play Streets in the capital. Play Streets in New York continue to be an important part of city life.

Paul Hocker

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