The Play Streets Tradition Turns 100

Kids in the kingsbridge section of the Bronx know how to make a Play Street party.
Image Courtesy Cassandra Giraldo

The City’s longstanding custom of summertime street closures is about to celebrate its 100th birthday with more events, a simplified application process and a level of Administration support unequaled in decades.

The Play Streets program, which was started by the Police Athletic League in 1914, has been empowering communities in the five boroughs to take control of their neighborhood streets for generations. Millions of kids, families and communities have turned the unofficial backyard of every New Yorker—the street—into an official place for play, music, conversation and fun.

Transportation Alternatives has been supporting the Play Streets program for years, spreading the word that temporary street closures are possible and helping interested groups work through the permit application process and plan successful events. Now, the Mayor’s office has really gotten behind the program, cutting the permit time from three to five months down to just 30 days.

This year, the city is on track to see the largest application pool ever.

“Summer Play Streets are an important resource to provide additional recreational space and free programming for children in New York City neighborhoods without sufficient recreation facilities,” said Marco Carrion, the Commissioner of the Mayor’s Community Affairs Unit. “With the commitment of the volunteer neighborhood organizations that sponsor and supervise Summer Play Streets, city children have more access to healthy physical activity and areas to play protected from the danger of traffic.”

For schools and community groups with insufficient active play spaces, Play Streets open up streets for physical activity, benefiting students and local residents. Play Streets help address the city’s childhood obesity epidemic, while also allowing children and families to meet and get to know neighbors.

“We’re thrilled that the Mayor’s office is really pushing to cut the red tape and offer more support for the Play Streets program this year,” said Jennifer So Godzeno, T.A.’s Planning Director. “The simple act of closing a street can have a profound impact on individual residents and entire communities.”