Play Streets: Bigger and Better than Ever



RUGBY IN THE ROAD AT AN EAST HARLEM PLAY STREET
Image courtesy Julia de Martini Day

This summer, a 98-year-old New York City tradition will get a big boost. Play Streets—which have been a summertime staple since 1914, when the Police Athletic League started closing off blocks to give children safe, supervised and fun-filled places to play and learn—are receiving serious support from top-notch advocacy organizations like Transportation Alternatives, the American Heart Association and the Citizens Committee for New York.

Their contributions and commitment to the cause will make this year’s community Play Streets program the best-funded in city history.

What will all that money buy? Some of it will go directly to supporting Play Streets, but another big chunk will pay for research, reports and professional photography that will help make an even stronger case for Play Streets in years to come.

In 2010, T.A. and the Strategic Alliance for Health sponsored and studied a series of Play Streets at the Harvest Home Farmer’s Markets in East Harlem and the South Bronx. The program was a huge success. More than 1,200 children and teenagers attended the events, and organizers discovered that in those communities—where more than 40 percent of primary school children are overweight or obese—many participants would have spent that time watching TV, playing video games or otherwise sitting around. Most of those surveyed lived within 20 blocks of the Play Streets and nearly all—92 percent—said they’d recommend it to friends and neighbors.

That’s exactly the kind of work Play Streets supporters hope to replicate this year. Awesome events and rigorous reporting help ensure the future success of the program.

“In New York City, our streets are our backyards,” said T.A.’s executive director Paul Steely White. “By creating a space that’s safe from cars, Play Streets make the healthy choice the easy choice, allowing everyone to incorporate exercise into their daily routines.”

With the support of the American Heart Association, the Citizens Committee for New York and Transportation Alternatives, this year’s Play Streets are positioned to be the best ever. And they might be the biggest too. The City’s Department of Health and Mental Hygiene has received more applications for community-run Play Streets than ever before, so this summer, when the sun is shining and the kids are out of school, why not find a Play Street and see what all the fun is about?