News / Toronto

Permission to play: Pilot project aims to make Toronto streets more child-friendly

The partnership between Earth Day Canada and the city will allow neighbourhoods to get a permit to transform residential streets into playing fields for children.

Just like hosting a street festival, a local effort is looking to establish a process to apply for street closures to allow children to play.

File / Torstar News Service Order this photo

Just like hosting a street festival, a local effort is looking to establish a process to apply for street closures to allow children to play.

The quest to make Toronto a more child-friendly city is taking to the streets.

A partnership between Earth Day Canada and the city of Toronto will launch a pilot initiative Thursday that allows neighbourhoods to get a permit to transform residential streets into playing fields for children.

The StreetPLAY pilot project is in part a response to a controversial bylaw forbidding street encroachment – which has long left bylaw enforcement officers at odds with neighbourhood kids trying to take advantage of the warm weather by playing outside. Leaving hockey nets or basketball hoops on the street can result in a $90 fine, according to the bylaw.

That stands in contrast with the city’s ongoing efforts to encourage outdoor play, an important pillar of environmental education, said Earth Day Canada president Deb Doncaster.

“When I was a child, I could roam 10 kilometres without my parents getting upset,” she said, noting urban gentrification has diminished public spaces for outdoor recreation. “Today the roaming distance for a 10-year-old is just 250 metres.”

She said residential streets are an ideal alternative to parks and community centres, which can often be far away.

Similar programs exist in cities such as Seattle, New York and Quebec City. Just like hosting street festivals, residents can apply for full or partial closure of the street for a certain period of time and let kids roam free.

“This is an effort to bring back unstructured play into our neighbourhoods,” said Doncaster, adding the goal is to extend the program to all residential streets by 2018. “Hopefully the permit will eventually become useless and children can have safe spaces near their homes to play any time they want.”

Details:

  • The StreetPLAY pilot project will start at Pendrith Street and seven other streets in Wards 19 and 20, between May and October. More information can be found at streetplay.ca
  • In Toronto, a permit for temporary street closure costs $83.09 per day.

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