The city of Seattle has recently adopted a program that is similar to something that has been going on in New York City since 1914. Jennifer Wieland, the Seattle Department of Transportation’s Public Space Program Manager, is overseeing a new program called Play Streets. Launched last week, students at St. Terese Academy, in the Madrona neighborhood, ran relay races down 35th Avenue for their Field Day activities.
For some time now, the city has had a policy in place that allowed streets to be closed to through traffic for block parties and similar events. As these requests became numerous and more focused on activities for children, the city chose to take the idea a step further. By creating the Play Streets program, Seattle is working to enable improvements to an already active environment by making it safer for kids.
The city plans on reaching out to neighborhoods as a way to inform the citizens of the protocol involved for permits to be issued. Residents will be required to demonstrate that the neighbors are all aware of the possibility of temporary street blockages and that there exists an approximate consensus regarding the idea. Any streets that are major arterials serve as transit roadways and intersections cannot be blocked. Other than that, according to Wieland, it is up to the individual communities how they utilize the space. This idea is to help create vibrantly active right of ways.
According to Streetsblog USA, Wieland said that the program is all about making an extra little bit of space for creative community endeavors. This new program is right in line with the ongoing goals of Seattle’s public space program. The Play Streets idea was born out of the idea that citizens desire to strengthen their community and further establish Seattle’s outstanding neighborhoods. It is modeled after programs in New York City and San Francisco. As well, in 2012, the “Let’s Move!” Campaign pioneered by First Lady Michelle Obama with the Partnership for a Healthier America began an initiative that has launched similar programs in 10 cities.
New York City’s Police Athletic League and part of their Field Operations Program run the PAL Play Streets program. A summer program, it is celebrating its 100th anniversary this year. Their goal-oriented program is to help enrich the summer experience for children, by giving them supervised and safe places to learn and play. At the end of the season, there is a borough celebration. The program is broken up into four different components.
Firstly, the program teaches ways for youth to prevent negative behavior and enrich their life skills. Lessons in conflict resolution, health and safety, as well as, gang awareness are all a part of this segment.
The second component revolves around fitness and recreation. High and low-organizational activities are provided. Dance, volleyball and double-dutch are offered for older children while hopscotch, relay races and jump rope will be taught to younger kids. Open play, board games and weekly street game tournaments are also part of this component.
The third part is for inspiring the children through culture and arts. Each year this component has a theme. This summer’s theme is “Exploring the Caribbean.” Play Streets will be assigned an island in the Caribbean, and the children will learn about their island through costumes, art and dance.
The final segment relates to specialty programs and community connections. The objective for this component is to familiarize the children with their specific community and the resources available to them. Each Play Street will have a community board that has information about where to find their local library, hospital, police station, post office and other important locations. Public interest announcements will also be posted on the board. Various events for the children and their families will be offered throughout the summer. Safe bike riding, escaping burning buildings and other vital knowledge will be presented.
Though Seattle’s new program is not nearly as organized as NYC’s, it is still in its infancy. Seattle may not need to go to such lengths for their new Play Streets program, but it is encouraging to see such a complex and involved program, like the one in NYC, succeeding.
By Stacy Lamy