Rowdy rounds of kick-the-can, hotly contested street cricket matches with garbage bins for stumps, and quick games of hopscotch on grids scrawled in pastel chalk on asphalt.
Sydney’s quieter streets have acted as playgrounds for generations of youngsters.
The rising incidence of families and children living in high-density areas of the inner city has driven one council to revive street play to get people outside, boost residents’ health and foster community.
Quiet roads would be temporarily blocked to traffic on weekends to allow children to run around, under a “play streets” program set to be trialled by the Inner West Council.
Councillor Anna York said play streets offered a small solution to families who lived in homes with little or no backyard, and parents who battled to get their children outdoors and away from technology.
“The idea of ‘play streets’ is to give our kids a taste of the kind of play we remember from our childhoods – by providing a safe and fun outdoor play space for kids in a home environment – right outside the front door.”
The trial will reflect street-play programs that have been implemented in Britain and the United States as part of a global push to make residential streets in cities safer for children to play in.
Two streets in the inner west will be chosen to road-test the concept from April or May. The streets would fully or partially close to through-traffic for two to three hours on a Sunday afternoon.
The council has asked residents to suggest their streets, with more than 30 locations already put forward. They had to be more than 400 metres “easy walking distance” from a park or open space.
One of the roads that residents suggested is Camden Street in Enmore, where mother-of-three Mignon Green and her neighbours had spoken about their desire for children to play on the street.
“We said wouldn’t it be great if the kids could get out on the shared space to kick the footy and ride their scooters around, but we can’t because of the cars,” she said.
Ms Green, who grew up in an apartment in Bondi, said there were about 20 children within a few hundred metres of her home and the street was “pretty community-minded”.
“The kids would all be out on their bikes and scooters. Soccer is so big at the moment and they love to run. The girls might even just sit in the middle of their street and play with dolls.”
Valli Morphett, the chief executive of consultancy CoDesign Studio, helped develop models for play streets and “street meets” in South Australia and Victoria.
She said residents of those streets were trained in basic traffic management, only small streets were considered, there was a time limit of a few hours, and no commercial activities were allowed.
Play streets tended to be flexible, with little equipment or infrastructure, because “now and again, you’ll get someone who wants to get their car out and you’ll get some negative feedback”.
“That’s been the small negative reaction I’ve seen,” Ms Morphett said. “Some councils can be a bit nervous and resistant, but once they see it in action they come around.”
The play-street trial was recommended as a “quick win” in a draft council study compiled last year to inform inner west Sydney’s recreation needs – amid “increasing urbanisation” – until 2036.
Professor Linda Corkery, a landscape architecture expert from the University of NSW, said city planners had long assumed inner city apartment living was for young professionals and retirees.
“The big surprise is that families with children do want to live in cities,” she said.
“We are seeing, particularly in that inner ring of older Sydney suburbs where apartments are still relatively affordable, families are choosing to stay in apartments and terraces.
“If you look at New York … the whole Sesame Street vibe of people being on the street and playing on the street is, I think, really desirable.”
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