Take Back the Streets, for the Kids

stickbl4s.jpgAn article in Sunday’s New York Times discussed the decline of stickball and other games on city streets:

The fun stopped, or moved inside, depending upon whom you ask, thanks
to (pick two or three): television; two-income families;
air-conditioning; digital technology; organized sports, crime; smaller
families and roomier apartments; too much homework and other
responsibilities; diverse, less cohesive neighborhoods; and perhaps
most significantly, steady traffic, even on side streets.

Back in 2000, in response to an earlier Times article on the vanishing art of stickball, Park Slope resident Jeff Prant wrote a letter laying the blame squarely on cars. We’re having trouble getting the link to the Times archives to work, but here’s the salient passage:

We should remind ourselves, however, that these children’s games did
not disappear because of lack of interest or a shift in demographics.
They were forced out of existence by adult infatuation with automobile

On my block of Garfield Place, kids still enjoy playing
outdoors, but for them this means confinement to a five-foot strip of
sidewalk. Stickball or any other game played in the street would simply
be too dangerous to contemplate.

Our affection for the street
life of New York’s past could go beyond idle nostalgia if we take steps
to de-emphasize the auto in modern urban life and reclaim the street as
a vital community resource. Today’s children deserve the same safe
access to our streets that an earlier generation remembers so fondly.

It may be on the wane on the streets, but stickball’s place in New York lore seems secure — an easily tapped well of nostalgia for politicians as well as newspapers. In his 2005 mayoral campaign, Rep. Anthony Weiner used an image of himself playing the iconic game (third ad from top) to promote his outer-borough everyman credentials. Now, of course, Weiner is a prime opponent of congestion pricing, one policy that might make the city’s culture more friendly to street games once again.

If you’re interested in the the games kids (and grown-ups) play outdoors, it’s well worth checking out the excellent Streetplay site.

Photo: via Streetplay.com