Remember playing street cricket until the sun went down? Hopscotch with your friends on the pavement?
An initiative sweeping through London‚ Australia and Canada has seen local authorities allowing parents to close off their streets for a few hours for children to make the same memories – and tackle urban isolation and childhood obesity.
But South African suburban streets are perceived to be too dangerous for children to play on.
Research published this month in the South African Journal of Occupational Therapy found that street play‚ often overlooked as an important activity for children‚ conjured up anxieties about safety.
Occupational therapists Amanda Brackmann and Adrienne Daniels‚ who explored the street play experiences of children in Belhar‚ Cape Town‚ said traffic‚ the street’s location and “stranger danger” were some of the reasons South African children were instead hanging out at malls or glued to a mobile device.
“The children in our study noted that interruptions from cars often disturbed their play.
“At times, dangerous elements such as gang activities would make the children too fearful to play on the street. Parents in other studies often cited ‘stranger danger’ as a limiting factor.
“It’s not only the street location and vehicles that concern these parents, it’s the negative association they might come into contact with in the street‚” they said.
Ironically‚ Belhar children told researchers that playing in the street was one way to stay out of trouble.
Marcela Guerrero Casas of Open Streets Cape Town, a campaign to change the way South Africans “see‚ perceive and experience”, said that while traffic and crime were real issues to be concerned about‚ society exacerbated their fears by relying solely on perception.
“In other words‚ we have accepted as ‘normal’ that streets are dangerous.”
However, obtaining permission to close off suburban streets is not child’s play, with applicants having to meet many legal requirements.
“Temporary road closures are permitted subject to appropriate consultation and support from the respective line departments and enforcement units,” a eThekwini municipal spokesman said.