Conference looks at getting UK kids back on the street

Urban environments need to be more play- and bike-friendly

A conference in London to promote safer streets and child-friendly sustainable transport has highlighted the need for better urban planning in Britain to help get more kids riding their bikes.

Organised by Play England, Sustrans, Living Streets and the National Children's Bureau, the Places to Go? conference was chaired by designer Wayne Hemingway, a major advocate of cycle-friendly urban development.

Traffic issues, it seems,  are a huge concern for UK children and a significant contributor to the decline in the percentage of British kids who play on the streets and pavements outside their home – 75% in 1973 to just 15% in 2005.

To reverse the trend, according to Sustrans, there needs to be a concerted effort to improve the lot of children in Britain's town and cities:  “Good urban design is not just about providing equipment in designated play areas, and encouraging play means more than extending school playtimes. It is about creating safe informal places close to children's homes and enabling young people to be more independent whether they chose to walk, cycle or take a bus,” the sustainable transport charity said.

“Areas called Home Zones see the streets re-designed, removing kerbs and signs to give priority to people. Traffic calming schemes have also proved effective, research into schemes across London showed reduced mean traffic speeds by 9mph leading to a fall in serious accidents involving children by 45-60 percent,” it added.

Wayne Hemingway, who designed and lives at  the Staithes South bank housing development in Gateshead, England's largest HomeZone, said: "We moan about anti social behaviour from young people and violent youth crime regularly dominates the headlines. I believe some of the blame lies in our health and safety, nanny state culture and some lies in a built environment that ignores children's needs."

Adrian Voce, director of Play England echoed these concerns: "The modern world is making many streets and neighbourhoods into no-go zones for children's play, with active travel and even public transport widely inaccessible for many young people," he said.

"We're calling on Government, local authorities and adults collectively to ensure that the public realm offers children places to play near their homes and, as they get older, more opportunities for their independent mobility. If we want children to enjoy their childhoods, develop healthy lifestyles and to grow up respecting their communities and caring for their environment, we need to give them a bigger stake in both."

Do you share these views? Can you see a link between the lack of traditional children's 'play' including bike-riding and the development of a Britain in which adults are often fearful of groups of young people? Would you like to see your local urban environment redesigned to move cyclists and pedestrians further up the street-using hierarchy? Log in below and have your say.

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