Times Square may be a pedestrian playground for tourists, but all over the city, Transportation Alternatives is helping neighborhoods create their own car-free streets where parents can stop to chat and kids can pass an endless summer day playing ball and jumping rope. Community groups in all five boroughs hosted a Play Street last summer, and T.A. is building on that success with a new guide to help more groups navigate the application process.
Play Streets are city blocks that regularly close to traffic—a kind of recurring block party. To combat rising obesity rates, the city Department of Health has recently thrown its support behind these exercise-friendly street closures, and has helped to nearly double the number of Play Streets this summer to 15.
As communities clamor for more, T.A. has clarified the city’s application process and is lobbying city government to simplify its permitting procedures. In a recent letter, T.A. and 30 other groups have asked the mayor’s office of Long Term Planning and Sustainability to centralize permitting for street-closures and to set a goal of at least 66 community Play Streets by 2030. In a city as crowded as New York, open space can be hard to find. Nearly 179,000 children in NYC live more than a quarter mile from the nearest park and do not have adequate park access, according to the Trust for Public Land.
In Bedford-Stuyvesant, the Hattie Carthan Community Garden will run its second Play Street this summer. Because of crime in the neighborhood, Yonnette Fleming initially faced skepticism from the police and her community board that kids would visit a Play Street bordered by public housing. She proved them wrong. The sounds of African drumming and dancing are now regularly heard on the block. Another plus: children are exposed to healthy eating options at her small farm and market. “I now have little children asking, are there more Asian carrots left?” said Fleming.
In Jackson Heights, Queens, what started as a weekly Play Street now operates 24-hours a day through July and August, after the Jackson Heights Green Alliance lobbied their local community board. “It’s really become the town square,” said urban planner and alliance member Elena Madison. “The elderly come and watch the kids play in a space that’s inclusive and inviting to all.”
Additional Play Streets opened last year in East Harlem, Staten Island and the South Bronx, and this summer, more sites will open in Inwood and central Brooklyn. “Our streets are our backyards," said Paul Steely White, executive director of Transportation Alternatives. “Play streets help communities take advantage of public space by better serving the people who live on them.”
T.A.’s Play Streets Best Practices guide is available in English and Spanish: http://www.transalt.org/newsroom/reports