Word from the street (play)

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Tibbalds’ Associate, Richard Crutchley, has been working with his neighbours on the street where he lives to think about how they, and others, use it. As part of an effort to think about what the street means to its residents, and to take some stewardship of it, they have set up a monthly play street.

Opinion piece

2017. Street Play: Palmers Green, Enfield. We’ve been doing this for over three years now; every third Sunday we close off the road to traffic and open it up to street play. With permission from Enfield Council, we have a road closure order that allows us to restrict traffic into our ordinarily busy residential street. Residents taking back control of the street, just a bit.

It’s half an hour before the event, and some of the kids from up the road are already circling on their bikes, waiting. The late autumn sun is hitting the street, the patchy clouds offering little resistance. A gentle breeze is in the last brittle leaves on the trees of this suburban London road.

I’m setting up, at the top of the road, counting the minutes down, and then the seconds, until we can draw the barriers across the road and put up the ‘Road Closed’ sign, purposefully centred. Then, silence. No more unwanted cars on our residential road. Our cycling enthusiasts take to the tarmac, and I walk back along the street, right in the middle, knowing I don’t need to look back. After all the anticipation of the start, now the anticipation of what the event will bring.

The familiarity of street play to our residents brings a relaxed environment, where people of all ages, with and without their own children come to talk, mix and watch. No-one is wondering what they should do. The adults lean by the walls, beginning to chat, making introductions where they don’t know each other. Some are sipping tea. There’s cake. Less cautious, the pre-teens have loaded their water pistols and are chasing each other in and out of gardens. There’s noise. Some of the youngest are on scooters or plastic ride-on cars. There are others chalking on the pavements and on the road in gaudy colours. Five foam footballs, kicked, follow the camber of the road and ultimately lodge under parked cars to be largely forgotten.

Buzz Lightyear is chalked onto the middle of the street, a homage to the bespectacled boy causing minor mayhem in a Lightyear cozzie.
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After an hour or so, with occasional interruptions for returning or leaving residents walked out of the street in their cars behind the stewards – oh, the power! – there are twenty to thirty kids of varying ages wide-eyed and alive, engrossed in activities; packs race through the middle backwards and forwards on two, three or four wheels (we await our first uni-cycler) whilst others skip, chalk, chase and squirt. Adults stand by, watching, participating, talking. Some have the nerve to scoot. A neighbour without kids brings out his young parrot and a jug of grapes. Some of the kids are momentarily diverted and watch the bird devour the soft fruit. Buzz Lightyear is chalked onto the middle of the street, a homage to the bespectacled boy causing minor mayhem in a Lightyear cozzie.

Casual activities perpetuate for another hour until a sudden rush of returning cars at the end of the afternoon disrupts the flow, and before we know it, we’re pulling back the barriers and removing our signs; the cars take back the road again.

Our soldiers will take back the street again, briefly, next month and, one day, the war will be ours and we alone will rule the street.