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Comment - Streets for Living / Road Safety

Our First Play Street by Clare Rogers, one of the organisers

Our street in Palmers Green, Devonshire Road, has become the first 'play street' in the borough of Enfield. Once a month, we can close the road to through traffic so that children can play, while residents' cars must enter or leave at walking pace.

As a group of neighbours we first closed Devonshire Road for a one-off play session in 2011. We were inspired by Playing Out in Bristol, started by two mums who wanted to give their children the same freedom to play outdoors that they had enjoyed. Their website quotes a disturbing statistic: 71% of adults played out on their street every day as children, compared to only 21% of children today. The main reason given was traffic (see www.playingout.net ).

Their model of regular road closures - stewarded by volunteers while kids scoot, skip and chalk freely all over the street - has taken root in London. Paul Hocker of London Play estimates that there are currently 25-30 play streets across seven boroughs, with a big increase expected by summer: five more boroughs have play streets in the pipeline. The Department of Health has given London Play funding to encourage the trend, targeting boroughs (like Enfield) where childhood obesity is worst.

It was after visiting a brand new Hackney play street last spring that we decided to apply to Enfield for our own 'play street order' for Devonshire Road. This allows up to 12 closures a year (rather than the usual one).

The process was not smooth. We were completely unprepared for several neighbours' determination to scupper the plan. They argued that residents' cars would get scratched; children should play in Broomfield Park instead; and the street would become a magnet for paedophiles (!). We held a public debate, where we agreed on a postal ballot facilitated by the council. This showed a clear majority in favour of the play street.

We're already seeing benefits from just two closures so far. I can't walk down the street now without meeting someone I know. Devonshire Road is more than just the conduit for cars it used to be: it's becoming a public space for fun, outdoor play, and a meeting place for a growing community. I hope we're the first of many.

Contact the organisers via Facebook ('Devonshire Road N13'), Clare on chocrogers@hotmail.com, or Richard on bethsaysboo@gmail.com.

First published in the EGP members newsletter, December 2013

Published and promoted by Bill Linton for Enfield Green Party, both at 39A Fox Lane, London N13 4AJ