Signs of life
Any debate over young people playing in city streets goes to the core of the definition of a civil society. We have residents who value a quiet neighbourhood. These people say public parks are the designated outdoor play locations. On the other side, there are residents who believe neighbourhood streets belong to all, and not merely motorists.
The issue of shared space -- what public space is for and who may use it -- goes back to activists who initiated “take back the streets” campaigns, installed drinking water fountains and worked toward democratic electorate systems. They believe that public space is multi-use and for all residents, within reason. It is the “within reason” area that debate can form – and has this past month. A family whose children played outside was given a city bylaw offence warning for not having their kids play in a yard or public park. A complaint with the city had been lodged by a neighbour who disliked the noise of children playing. The fact that noisy play occurred in the street and not only in the front yard is why there were grounds for a city offence.
Considering that health studies point to the inactivity of children as the number one health risk to Canadians, the complaint of being bothered by outdoor active play is hard to understand.
Suburban communities, such as Aylmer, come with neighbours. To live with the sound of birds is possible in a rural setting, but hardly possible in a residential neighbourhood. There is decorum, and there are bylaws about noise wherever people live close together. It is impolite to run a lawnmower before 10 am on the weekend, for example. And it is not permitted to make noise over a certain decibel in the night.
Play in the streets bothers people for neither of these reasons (decorum or reasonable law). Motorists are sitting comfortably in their heavy and dangerous vehicles –- it is their responsibility to be aware of everything around them. That’s why a safe driver slows to a crawl in a residential neighbourhood when they can’t see around a curve – there could be a five-year old learning to ride a bike. And we all learned that way.
And, frankly, after work hours and on weekends, shouldn’t neighbourhood streets belong more to non-motorized vehicles than cars? Why pretend otherwise? A healthy society is active and lively -- not sitting inside staring at a screen! A healthy neighbourhood is noisy, with basketballs flying, cyclists, and jump-ropers singing as they skip up and down the street. Aylmer’s former chalk festival, Fleur de macadam, was an example of having children take ownership of the public space; colouring it with fantastic designs, becoming engaged citizens.
Looking at civil society as it is experienced here in Aylmer, how can anyone claim that prohibiting the use of shared public space is a healthy direction? Aylmerites are active humans, let them sing and yell out a foul ball – from the streets, parks, yards, and sidewalks.