Speelstraat in Menen, Belgium - Crédit : city of Menen

« Levelling the Playing Fields » : Launching two new publications

As part of the “Levelling the Playing Fields” initiative, the Montreal Urban Ecology Center (MUEC), Professor Katherine Frohlich from the Université de Montréal’s School of Public Health (ESPUM) and Centre de Recherche en Santé Publique (CReSP), along with partners from Kingston Gets Active, the Kingston Coalition for Active Transportation and Professor Patricia Collins from Queen’s University, we are launching two publications  regarding innovative models of street transformation :  School Streets and Play Streets. These models promote free play and independent mobility for children by offering inexpensive urban planning interventions making living environments more favorable for health.

“Cities and their neighborhoods are also living environments for children. We must move beyond the idea that the street is only available for motorized vehicles. These two publications, launched as part of UN’s World Cities Day, propose strategies and ways of rethinking public spaces that can inspire municipalities " says Véronique Fournier, director of the MUEC.

Tools to better understand and rethink our streets

The first factsheet, entitled Fostering free play to improve the well-being of children and restore their right to the city , takes stock of the characteristics and benefits of these innovative models that promote independent mobility and free play, activities initiated by children spontaneously, without any form of adult intervention. Having a recognized impact on the physical, emotional, social and cognitive development of children and adolescents, free play allows children and youth to discover their environment, to gain self-confidence, to experiment and to gradually acquire the skills to later approach the complexity of cities with confidence.

From France to the United States, we are witnessing an awakening of municipal interest in these public-space strategies. This is demonstrated by the second publication Review of inspiring case studies for Play Streets and School Streets, which offers eight international case studies for adaptation in the Canadian context.

Actively “Levelling the Playing fields” within Canadian cities

With the "Levelling the Playing Fields" project, the MUEC and ESPUM/CReSP introduce these two new models of street transformation to Canadian cities with a view to giving children back the right to the city. “We need to re-think the built environment in which children play because currently, from a public health point of view, we are moving towards a less healthy and less independently mobile generation than the previous ones, with all the consequences that this entails” emphasizes Professor Katherine Frohlich.

This research-intervention project, led by researchers and multidisciplinary practitioners, aims to deploy free play and independent mobility pilot interventions, first in Kingston and Montréal in 2021-2022, then in five Canadian communities, in order to experiment and collect data on these two innovative models.

With the launching of these tools, the MUEC and ESPUM are extending an invitation to Canadian municipalities to reflect on the place of children in their neighbourhoods. Confinement, which may continue in 2021, has had a major impact on the physical activity of young Canadians. We therefore invite Canadian municipalities to create renewed and safer public spaces for all their children.