By Jeff Mays
HARLEM — Kids in Harlem and Inwood will have more play options this summer thanks to six additional play streets expected in both upper Manhattan neighborhoods.
The news comes as Transportation Alternatives publishes its best practices guides for play streets. Last year, the group helped initiate a trial where play streets joined with farmer's markets, bypassing the sometimes tricky process of obtaining a street closure permit.
Among the recommendations in the report are suggestions on how to partner with other organizations to open a play street — which is closed off from traffic — and how to help program activities to make the area successful and attractive to kids.
"Play streets are low cost but high impact. We are using a resource at our fingertips," said Julia Day, director of transportation and health for Transportation Alternatives
Already, there have been 17 new applications for play streets compared with just eight last year. Fifty-two percent of the city's neighborhoods don't provide enough play space for kids, according to Transportation Alternatives.
"We just kept hearing from community organizations that they loved the idea and the demand was there and growing," Day said.
In Harlem, two of the new play streets will be associated with farmers markets. Harlem R.B.I. has applied for another. Of the people surveyed after last year's trial at an East Harlem play street at a farmers market, 64 percent said they would have been doing something sedentary if they were not at a play street.
Javier Lopez, director of the NYC Strategic Alliance for Health, a partner in the effort to increase play streets, said the closed off areas help tackle the obesity epidemic among children.
East Harlem is classified as a district of public health area where residents suffer from disproportionately high rate of diabetes, asthma and obesity. One in every four kids in Head Start programs in East and Central Harlem is obese and four in 10 in public elementary schools are overweight.
"Play streets increase the opportunity for physical activity in communities that have limited access to playgrounds and parks," said Lopez. "It engages them in a way where they want to play because kids want to play outside and in the street."
Safety is one of the biggest reasons why parents keep their kids in the house. One underutilized playground became a community resource when a play street opened next to it. Day said parents and kids both felt the playground was unsafe, but that changed when the play street opened next to it.
"A successful play street can be turned into a permanent open space for the community," Day said. "Getting people out into these spaces includes the perception of safety."