There’s a wave of community action gathering pace through the country as people gather together in their neighbourhoods and try to make their lot a little better. It may be that the Government’s localism agenda is having an effect; it may be that people are so unhappy with the state of things that they’re taking it upon themselves to do what they can in their place to make things better. Certainly, you do hear more often of street parties, gatherings, community groups and festivals, and here in north London, it’s no exception.
My own street has had its own Facebook page for about a year, and it’s a conduit for expressing issues on the street. It’s come about over a period of two years, residents having got together in 2011 to organise a ‘street play’ event, closing the road and allowing children to play, supervised, in the street for an afternoon. Our event went really well; last year we followed it up with a Jubilee lunch, and we plan to have more regular street play events this year.
The street play idea was born in Bristol, although community events to ‘take back the road’ have been going on for some time, endorsed and encouraged by the likes of the now defunct Government agency, CABE. This drew on experience in places like The Netherlands, where the Woonerf has been introduced in many areas, and Frieburg where, in Vauban, a major housing development has a totally shared space in all its streets. Experimentation has, perhaps half-heartedly, taken place here in places like South Staithes in Gateshead but the counter intuitive approach appears to have positive results. The street play idea seeks to edge towards shared spaces, streets for people, and has a wider aim of reducing traffic speeds and car dependence as well as building communities and getting children out playing, particularly where they have limited access to play spaces.
Our campaign is the first in LB Enfield, but follows very successful similar schemes already underway in Hackney, Waltham Forest and Sutton among others, and other schemes in planning in places like Haringey. It’s being encouraged by Government funding to improve health in pre-teens, and by London Play, a charity aiming to provide better play opportunities for kids. We needed to consult with residents on the street and prove some level of understanding amongst them about what we were trying to do. When our consultation ended, we were informed by the Council that there had been objection raised with them, but the Council have – to date – not let us see the objections, what they said or who they were from. It has, however, put the schedule for achieving a closure – via a Temporary Street Play Order – back from June to July already.
The objectors emerged today and started their own campaign, posting a letter to every resident and taping the same note to trees, and started knocking on doors with a petition. Anecdotally, we understand that the objectors have some of the elements of the street play idea incorrect – particularly the level of supervision and parental responsibility required to undertake a street play event – but quite clearly the objections being raised centre around a fear that closing the street and letting children play in the street would attract paedophiles and risk children being kidnapped. A photo of the note below.
I wouldn’t be writing this, or organising a street closure for kids’ play if I agreed with these views. I’m not writing to judge the views or tear the arguments apart, either – both of which I’d be capable of – but it demonstrates the level of paranoia we have achieved in this country if these views have become normal with some people in our society. It’s views like this that make me uneasy on my own, as a father, with my two kids in a playground; it’s views like these that have lead to me eating fish and chips in a public park with my back to a playground. These views are more toxic than the grossly over estimated threat of kidnapping.
I’d love to know what you think. Who’s got the wrong end of the stick?