A community-led placemaking trial using the CoDesign Studio Play Streets Toolkit

Client: City of Melbourne 2016

Play Streets make play spaces by temporarily closing streets to through traffic so kids and parents can play outside. They aim to make everyday play and exercise fun and easy, and create better-connected neighbourhoods.

In partnership with City of Melbourne, CoDesign Studio ran two trial Play Streets in Kensington in 2015. Based on learnings from these trials, we developed the first iteration of the Play Streets Toolkit.

The original kit was designed to remove obstacles for residents who wish to run their own Play Streets. Practical and informative, the Play Streets toolkit included a step-by-step guide and a simplified street closure permit.

With the goal of improving the toolkit even further we set about further iterative trials in cooperation with councils across Victoria. In this way, we could actively research the alignment of our earlier learning with collaborative process to empower local governments as well as community members to make better, healthier, safer neighbourhoods.

In April 2016, a new community-led trial was held in Kensington to test and fine tune the kit.

This case study summarises the outcomes of the community-led trial Play Street organised by residents in a particular street in Kensington and offers recommendations and next steps.

What the research shows

Unstructured outdoor play is important for kids’ physical, social, and personal development. Yet many communities around Melbourne lack safe and accessible outdoor play space in close proximity to homes. Play Streets provides a model for how residents can make use of their own streets to create places where kids and parents can be physically active and play. This model has had success internationally, in cities such as London and New York.

Benefits of this model demonstrated by international examples include:

  • More space available for unstructured outdoor play and physical activity for kids and families
  • Communities empowered to create the places they live in, not waiting for councils to fund and build parks
  • Better use of underutilised spaces for places for physical activity

Communities become better connected through socialising during Play Streets events and through working together to make Play Streets happen.

Testing the CoDesign Studio Play Streets Toolkit

In early 2016, CoDesign Studio took an engagement approach to connect with residents in Kensington to run their own Play Street. As part of the trial package, residents would be provided with the following: Play Streets Kit and simplified permit funds to cover cost of insurance and traffic management, and a play box with simple tools (chalk, skipping ropes, balls) to get kids playing.

We created a working group of local citizens and then guided them through the steps in the toolkit. This included, inspiration, applying for an event permit (which is a great time to test out what council processes could be made simpler and highlight red tape barriers for community members), organising traffic management, applying for insurance (the responsibility for which we now advocate should sit with council to ease any financial pressure on local groups), and of course promoting the Play Street to their neighbours.

With letterbox drops and posters up in local trader windows, the Play Streets message began to spread around town in this inner city area of Melbourne's busy centre. On the day, we heard people had photographed the posters and texted friends as a way to spread the word even further.

While CoDesign Studio provided a Play kit fitted out with skipping ropes, chalk, hula hoops, and masks, the residents working group uncovered many of their own resources to also bring on the day including cricket sets and tennis nets. There was also the all-important organisers kit filled with first aid kit, sunscreen, and high vis vests. One house volunteered use of their toilets and water (a requirement of the permit from City of Melbourne), and then on the day, setting up the Play Street was relaxed and casual. People did what they felt like instead of following a plan, for a highly enjoyable day.

"Once the street was closed, the Play Street happened easily and naturally. A few simple things placed along the road (chalk, balls, skipping ropes) was enough to get kids playing and residents talking and connecting with each other." - CoDesign Studio team member

Evaluation and Participant Feedback

Attendance at the Play Street was measured by giving stickers to children and adults who attended. Based on the sticker count, 44 kids and 43 adults attended the Play Street. CoDesign collected images of the day by monitoring access to the street with time-lapse cameras and taking photos. Images show use of the whole street, a range of games and activities, and adults and children socialising.
Feedback was collected via an informal survey of attendees during the Play Street. Overall, children who attended the Play Street described the day as fun. They enjoyed playing in the street, and the fact that the street was free of cars. Adults were also positive about their experience of the day. They emphasised the good atmosphere, catching up with neighbours, and the opportunity for kids to play with other local kids. However, in general people did not feel very confident about organising a Play Street without support and guidance. In particular, they found the idea of the formal process off-putting, and therein lies an important message for local government workers, as well as a key tenant of our action-research projects, that short-term prototype trials can highlight barriers to residents and shine a light on where exciting and healthy projects like this could be made easier from a process perspective.

Some further conclusions to reflect on:

  • Having delivered one Play Street, residents of this particular street, were keen to run this on a regular basis but only if their was not a high administrative burden and limited to no cost burden.
  • One resident commented that she wished the Play Street were more inclusive. Some of her neighbours who don’t have children left for the afternoon or stayed in their house, though they were in support of the event. How can Play Streets be a safe and welcome place for children and a welcome place for residents who are not parents or kids?

Some of the highlights of the day:

"I was just walking past and saw this going on and now I’ve met people on this street. It’s great. My daughter also just ran into her friend from school!"

"I like the atmosphere, it’s nice to see kids from different streets playing with each other."

"I really like the concept of Play Streets and the process was made much easier under the guidance of CoDesign."

"It was good to see all ages of kids there. I think if offered more for a wider range of kids. The local playground caters more for younger kids—under 5."