August 18, 2021

‘Claiming the streets’ connects neighbours through play

Taking children’s play outside, keeping it local and enhancing community cohesion has proved a winning formula in West Auckland with Healthy Families Waitākere’s Play Streets initiative.

From December 2020 to June 2021, seven West Auckland Play Streets were hosted across several suburbs including Kelston, Ranui, Avondale, Glen Eden and Massey. More than 300 local residents from the neighbourhoods took part in the events, designed as simple, low-cost activities where residents worked together to temporarily limit vehicles on a neighbourhood street.  The street closures allowed children and whānau to play and socialise, with everyone able to actively engage with others in their immediate neighbourhood.

“The concept of Play Streets drew on the opportunity provided during lockdown which saw residents  reimagining their streets and the ways they could be used to promote local activity and connection. It provides an option for exploring and testing community-led play initiatives and ideas that will sustain and strengthen the wellbeing of the community,” explains Bea Enriquez, Play Systems Innovator at Healthy Families Waitākere.

Play Streets was operated through a collaborative, cross-agency partnership between Healthy Families Waitākere, Healthy Families South Auckland, Auckland Council and Auckland Transport, with funding from Waka Kotahi’s Innovating Streets fund.

By involving local champions and community organisations in each Play Street event, Healthy Families Waitākere ensured co-design at a local level in line with each neighbourhood’s specific needs. 

“The initiative was co-designed alongside people in each community to provide whānau with the opportunity and right to experience play on the streets of West Auckland. The concept was prototyped in a pre-pilot event in Kelston with Auckland Transport and local champions played a core role in the implementation of each pilot Play Street after that.

“Each Play Street was tailored to the requests of the people in the local community, with shared food and activities for free-play, structured play and placemaking – such as artwork on the street and more seating and benches. Activities included a mix of things such as street chalk drawing, water games, BBQ, racquet games and other play-based activities.”

With the initial pilot series of events now complete, the focus is on evaluating the Play Street model and the opportunity to create more events for the coming summer.

“We have some very clear outcomes and themes from this initial Play Street series.  Neighbourhoods have reported increases in not only children’s active behaviour but greater social connectivity and a variety of ongoing resident-driven initiatives shaped around their greater sense of ‘owning’ their streets as places to play and share with each other.  In turn, this shift is increasing physical activity, mental wellbeing and social connectivity.”

The benefits imparted by the Play Streets initiative and the resulting increase in locally-based activity also extend much further to help address a recognised play equity issue in Tāmaki Makaurau.

“Local outdoor play, like cricket and riding bikes, has been traditional for generations but in recent years this local unstructured activity has been declining. Various factors contribute to this with parental concerns about safety and fears about strangers, bullies and traffic creating the biggest barriers to independent active free play,” says Bea.

“It is evident in feedback from each event that holding Play Street events has created a considerable mind shift for some parents who have increasingly allowed their children to play outside. It appears that the parents’ new relationships with neighbours and between their children has increased confidence that outdoor play is a safe option.”

A participant at the Kelston Play Street event supports this: “I lived on this street for 14 years, my whole life, and I’ve never seen this happen. My sisters say they used to play on the street all the time but they don’t see that a lot now.”

“Immediately after the play street, the kids were out more,” adds a participant at the Avondale event.

Learnings from the Play Streets have contributed to the development of guidelines to support communities in running their own Play Streets events. These will be launched during National Play Week which takes place between 15-21 November this year.