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Play Streets: Assets or Liabilities?

"H

EY! Take those boxes By WILLIAM M. WENER Thus, the play street, inouta there!" yelled the

Director

augurated by well-meaning truck driver to a numHome Thrift Association Settlement

people who perhaps underber of youngsters romping on

Yorkville, New York City

stand little of the working of a play street. He raced his en

the child's mind, defeats its gine and honked his horn, nos

own main purpose by teaching his gigantic produce truck Do play streets defeat the

ing children a wrong behavior dangerously near an impro

pattern. vised barricade of packing purpose for which they were

“Keep the children off the intended? We hope that you boxes piled across the entrance

city streets” has been the conto a side street leading from will give us your opinion. tinual plea of the public - the one of the main New York

command to social workers. arteries.

And then these same well"Wadaya mean, 'take dem boxes away'?” re- meaning optimists proceed blithely to promote a torted the leader, “You can't come in here. Dis is

movement toward making the street safe, and suca play street, ain't it?"

ceed only in making it more attractive for children Quite true! This was a play street-and a su- to use as a playground! For the streets segrepervised play street, at that on Friday. But to- gated on certain days for play are marked off with day is Saturday! And on Saturday it isn't a play white paint to provide courts for paddle tennis, street. In fact, the small movable sign on the shuffleboard, quoits and various other low orstanchion post has been rolled away. But the ganization games. In addition, leaders are sent to youngsters aren't old enough to understand the

help the children organize their games, for which why and wherefore of city ordinances. On some balls, bats, racquets, marbles and tops are supplied. days they are allowed, even encouraged "by de

In other words, the play streets are accomplishguys wot run it,” to play at will on the street. But

ing exactly the opposite of what they were origiat other times they find their games disturbed by

nally intended to do. They are accustoming the passing traffic. The inconsistency of a plan which

children to playing on the streets. They are teachrules playing children on and off a street, accord

ing them to consider the street their habitual, nating to scheduled plans formulated in some main

ural—even preferred-playground. Here is a deadministration office, fails at the outset to accom

liberate effort to organize street playing. Thouplish its initial purpose—that of making streets

sands of dollars are spent annually in maintaining as safe as possible for play.

the equipment, upkeep and personnel of the play Every day is play day for a child—Saturday

streets, only to defeat blatantly the original purand Sunday not excepted! And, naturally enough,

pose for which they were intended. on the days when the streets are not supervised children expect the same freedom in the streets

Asset or liability? Which? that they have on other days. On supervised days In many districts of the city a seemingly unexthey are taught to help keep traffic off the street. plained paradox exists. Well-equipped playIn some places they select monitors who wear grounds appear to be sparsely attended while armbands and whose office it is to warn off in- nearby play streets are teeming with children. vading traffic and turn it aside. Upon occasions Some critics of organized playgrounds contend they have seen their elders pile boxes from the

that this phenomena is due to a lack of sufficiently neighborhood grocery store across the street en- well-trained personnel in attendance at the ortrance as a reminder to grown-ups who can't re- ganized playgrounds to interest the children in member that this is their play street. The child worth while programs of activity. If this is so, mind argues quite logically that on days when why not utilize the play street leaders—those now there is no supervision, the packing boxes are conducting play streets—to increase the personnel needed more than ever!

of existing playgrounds? Why not bend the same

PLAY STREETS: ASSETS OR LIABILITIES?

71

effort and spend the same amount of money in How about the streets which have been abanaugmenting the number of existing playgrounds ? doned as play streets? A certain percentage each

The street gang, long the bugaboo of the socially year are run for a short period and then, for one conscious citizen, is merely the abnormal out- of a number of reasons, closed again to children's growth of a very normal instinct, modern psy- play. chologists point out. "Ganging up" will go on How about the probability of the play streets wherever children gather together for play ac- setting a mistaken example of play behavior for tivity. Just as in school, there will always be children who are not fortunate enough to live on cliques who naturally gravitate toward their in

a play street ? dividual leaders. All humanity tends to band itself The obvious argument, promulgated by those together in groups under differentiated leadership, who consider play streets efficacious, that children adult as well as adolescent. The so-called under- will play on the streets anyway, so why not make privileged child is no exception. His fraternity the street play safer and more pleasant—is, after may not wear a pearl and sapphire studded pin to all, a hedging attitude to take. Very obviously the denote membership. The members may win their play street is "safer" only in degree—not in fact. bids by fists and pledge allegiance in a trading "Penny wise and pound foolish,” it is like spendquota of “G-Men” cards, instead of initiation by ing money to patch and repatch an old pair of beer and pretzels. But social consciousness and pants when a slightly larger investment, taken social distinctions are quite as keen in the "gang- from funds set aside for a clothing allotment, ing up" of the boys and girls of the city streets would buy a new pair! For the child is enas they are in the more elective and “tapping" couraged in a false set of values, a distorted, insystems among the collegiate or polo-playing stead of an increased, community esprit de corps fraternity.

is fostered. A deceptive sense of security beOn any city street, five or six boys will un- comes a real hazard to the child's safety and life consciously gang up with a leader. It may be the when he duplicates his play activity on ordinary, smallest lad-or the "dumbest." It is not always unregulated streets. physical or mental prowess that makes a leader, All thoroughfares cannot be play streets all the but rather some inborn instinct for leadership time. If they were, then they would be playwhich emerges to express itself in that certain grounds! And some streets can never be play child when he is with those of similar age and streets. What effect is this going to have on the class. He may not even know he has it. At first observing child ? the others may not realize he is a leader. Or For instance, Johnny lives on a congested street conversely, they will not even know they are being that is never a play street. But he knows that led. But let an adult come into the group and Tommy, three blocks away, plays out in front of suggest forming a “club." All boys are natural his house. If Tommy can play in front of his own joiners—and an idea of a club hits them right be- house and have a play street, why can't Johnny ? tween the eyes. Well, that's the lad they will pick The adult may argue, “why doesn't Johnny go for their president every time.

and play on Tommy's street?” The adult who That the play street fosters the growth of the says this doesn't know the habits of street chilvicious street gang is a

dren. There may be a line statement highly unfair, The subject of play streets is a contro

drawn between Tommy's perhaps, in bare statement versial one, and there are people who will street and Johnny's streetof fact. But, that it tends to not share Mr. Wener's conviction that such

a line drawn in barriers that bring back the very thing

streets are more of a liability than an as-
set. RECREATION has in the past published

no adult, no play street sufor which it was organized articles presenting the viewpoints of advo

pervisor, no child can break, to combat, is not an impos

cates of play streets, and will be glad to nor would want to break. sible conception. For who is receive comments on this article for later There may be a dozen reato "supervise" the children's publication. The most recent and compre- sons, all silly to an adult, play on the days when the hensive presentation of the values of play

why Johnny isn't welcome play street has ceased to be

streets, their organization and conduct, is
to be found in a book just off the press-

to play in Tommy's block. a play street and becomes, "Play Streets and Their Use for Recreational

The two boys may easily once more, just another ordiPurposes" by Edward V. Norton, published

attend the same public nary busy traffic lane?

by A. S. Barnes & Company, New York City. school. But this doesn't nec

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PLAY STREETS: ASSETS OR LIABILITIES?

The play street fosters a wrong behavior pattern in the child's mind. He takes no heed of · passing traffic. · Haven't the "cops" closed off the street for his special benefit? Hasn't he been given priority right to play there? Hasn't the gang been told it may play there without intervention? Hasn't it been encouraged and pursuaded to take part in the competitive tournaments and handicraft classes organized in the streets and on the sidewalks? The child gets used to thinking of his street as a closed street.

essarily mean they will choose to spend their play hours together. It may be a rivalry no adult may comprehend, but it will preclude the mixing of play hours for Johnny and Tommy on a play street.

In one New York neighborhood recently such a situation arose. A gang from a neighboring street who didn't have a play street decided to take advantage of their rivals' good luck. They arrived at the entrance—half a dozen youngsters, ranging from nine to six years of age. They were warned off. The play street gang held their ground. That was their street and there were plenty of boys and girls in the block who were welcome. The invaders left, but not for long. They returned, this time their numbers doubled. They came, hauling their improvised roller-skate carts. For the second time they were repulsed. But this time they had come prepared. From the soap-boxes mounted on wheels appeared sticks and stones and a few milk bottles. Brave artillery in a brave cause! When milk and pop bottles are redeemable at any grocery store for two, three and five cents! Many a stick of candy or chew of gum was sacrificed that day in a battle for a play street!

It didn't take the play street gang long to get the idea. Leaving some of their number on guard, others went home. They came back with their wooden pistols, crudely fashioned of two sticks and a spool. By this time the girls had decided it wasn't just a man's fight. Ammunition gone, the invaders retreated, only to return again with loaded carts and increased boy power.

At this stage the play street gang had organized. They had scattered and hidden in doorways and behind ash cans along the route. They had slingshots this time—and some coal. Again they beat off the intruders. And this time the interlopers didn't return. Calm reigned on the play street once more! Ordinarily there was a supervisor on that play street. But this particular day wasn't a "supervised" day!

Once more the play street had proved its inefficacy in defeating one of the evils for which it was introduced. In fact, it had inspired the very combative spirit of anti-social ganging up which it was so hopefully inaugurated to dispel. For the original idea of the play street was to give the children in districts where there was no available public playground a safe, supervised play areaa play area at their own doorsteps where they might be under the parental eye.

Of course it is impossible to bar all traffic. When the play streets were first opened, a brave attempt was made. A few summons were given in a desultory fashion. Even a few fines were handed out to those who ignored the play street signs. But there are the residents in the block who have cars. Their guests who drive, from a distance perhaps, are unfamiliar with the provisions made for the children. There are business men who must have deliveries made. There are very few congested streets that do not have their small stores in the block. The residents certainly cannot be deprived of the privilege of parking their own cars before their own doors! Or could they be, if the job of providing safe play streets were really well done? They do it in England by renting from property owners at the play street entrances permission to run a chain across the street. But the majority of English towns and cities have their delivery alleys at the rear. In New York City it is a question whether modern business methods would permit of that without a great clamor of "hindering business" or many other similar objections being raised. And who could say that they would not be entirely within their rights to make a demand for uninterrupted and unrestricted trade?

Children get accustomed to darting in and out from behind parked cars without a care for approaching traffic. There isn't supposed to be any traffic! But how about building up careless pedestrian habits which will prevail when the child is not on the play street-or even when he is playing on a street that isn't a play street, because it doesn't happen to be the right day?

Statistics show that most of the motor accidents from which children suffer occur from their running out from behind parked. cars into the path of an approaching vehicle. Certainly it is unwise to encourage a city child in such rank

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T

HERE WAS a familiar sound to recreation workers in much that was said at the fourteenth an

nual Convention of the American Camping Association, at Detroit, February 4, 5 and 6, 1937. The emphasis on skilled leadership, the question of motivation in activities, the distinction between guidance and bossing, the problems of safety, and the details of such program material as dramatics, music and nature study, contained much material to keep all in mind of the fact that camping is a great field of recreation. The story of the National Park Service in its development of camps was told to the convention by Julian Salomon. Howard W. Oxley told of the CCC Camps, and Munroe Smith of the Youth Hostels.

One note of public recreation gatherings was absent—references to finances. For this convention represented very largely the private boys' and girls' camps supported by fees, with a generous number of camp authorities and workers from Y. M. C. A.'s and Y. W. C. A.'s, Boy Scouts, Girl Scouts and Camp Fire Girls. There may have been some connection between the small number of representatives of public recreation departments and their total absence from any place on the program or among the officials of the conven

tion. Although the theme of the convention was, "New Horizons for Camping," municipal camps did not appear on the horizon. They did appear in some of the addresses. Mr. Salomon of course was referring to public camps and particularly interesting was his description of the functioning of Camp Councils in Pittsburgh and Washington with their study of the needs of their cities.

Dr. H. S. Dimock, speaking on the subject, "Studies of Standards in Camping," insisted the camps must take themselves seriously as educational enterprises, and said that in spite of lack of standards, in too many cases, and of a general individualistic trend, they possessed an essential unity that made possible the formulation of desirable practices, and that they had much to learn from the fields of education and recreation as well as other professions and sciences. He told of well attended three-day institutes in Chicago at which camp leaders, in the appraisal frame of mind and emphasizing educational methods and procedures, discussed all phases of camping from staff qualifications to safety measures.

Along the same general lines was the description, by W. Thomas McCullough, of the Cleveland Camp Council, which forms a center for the

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NEW HORIZONS FOR CAMPING

exchange of information, a focus for interpretation and has an advisory function. Membership in the Council requires minimum standards and through mutual helpfulness, much advance has been made.

There was a charm and a reality about what Fay Welch had to say on the "Values of Living in the Wilderness," that made this listener long. to visit his New England camp. Naming such objectives as the enrichment of the inner life, the socializing values, and the understanding of such basic natural phenomena as droughts, floods, forest fires, drainage and vegetation effects, Mr. Welch illustrated, not only in his talk but with most attractive moving pictures, the camp activities that develop this understanding. Trips formal and informal, museums with ever-changing contents, photography, a weather station, nature games and nature stories were some of the activities described.

A reasonable and easily comprehended treatment of the relation of camping to mental health

was given by Dr. E. Lee Vincent of the MerrillPalmer School. Defining what she meant by literacy in the physical and emotional as well as the intellectual sense, Dr. Vincent gave most of her attention to the emotional values in camping, its opportunities for helping the "skill hungry,' for teaching naturally and for inculcating appreciation of simple things. Above all she emphasized its values in developing social skills, real friendships, ability to face success and failure, and the opportunity for campers to find resources in themselves—the ability to be alone. Emotions, she said, were to be controlled, but not to be feared ; were necessary and sources of pride.

In two inspiring addresses Eduard C. Lindeman brought to the camp leaders a broad philosophy of their relation to social changes and a series of challenging questions as to their part in national cultural development. Relating camping to the leisure time field, Mr. Lindeman said the Federal government had definitely entered that field

(Continued on page 107)

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