Seattle Opens Up Neighborhood Streets for Kids to Play

Seattle launched its "play streets" program on Friday. Photo: Seattle Department of Transportation
Seattle launched its Play Streets program on Friday. Photo: Seattle Department of Transportation

At St. Terese Academy in Seattle last week, students held relay races on 35th Avenue. It was field day at the Madrona neighborhood school, and thanks to a new initiative from the city of Seattle, the kids had some extra space to stretch their legs.

The elementary school was the first to take part in Seattle’s new “Play Streets” program, which launched last Friday. “Play Streets” will allow community groups to apply for permits to keep traffic off their block specifically to establish safe, temporary spaces for children to play.

Jennifer Wieland, manager of Seattle DOT’s Public Space Management Program, which oversees Play Streets, said the city was acting on numerous requests from residents. The city has for years operated a program for block parties, which allows neighbors to request a permit for a temporary car-free street. But Seattleites started to ask about scheduling car-free events with greater regularity and incorporating play equipment like swings and sand boxes.

“It’s about having that little extra bit of community speace to do something creative,” said Wieland. “It’s really out of people’s desires to build community and create great neighborhoods.”

St. Terese students in Seattle held their field say in 35th Avenue. Photo: Seattle Public Space Program
St. Terese students in Seattle held their field day on 35th Avenue. Photo: Seattle Public Space Program

In starting Play Streets, Seattle is following pioneers like New York and San Francisco. New York City’s Police Athletic League actually began running a play streets program a century ago. More recently, First Lady Michelle Obama’s “Let’s Move!” campaign and the Partnership for a Healthier America launched an initiative in 2012 that has brought play streets to 10 cities in the U.S. and Puerto Rico.

In the coming weeks, Seattle is planning neighborhood outreach to inform residents of the program and invite them to participate. In order to be granted a Play Street permit, residents will have to show that they have informed their neighbors and that there is a rough consensus around the concept. Streets that serve transit and major arterials cannot be closed, nor can intersections.

“It’s really up to the community to figure out how they want to use the space and what they want to have happen there,” said Weiland. “It’s really in keeping with the goals of the public space program, which is about creating an active and vibrant right of way.”

7 thoughts on Seattle Opens Up Neighborhood Streets for Kids to Play

  1. I’m back home where WordPress lets me comment on Streetsblog (it lets me comment everywhere else at the office).

    We have alternate side of the street, once every five days on each side of the street. So that’s two days a week.

    What if it were one day a week, on both sides of each residential side street? Not just for 1 1/2 hours to sweep, but for the whole day with the street blocked off to all but authorized vehicles?

    1st Street on Monday, 2nd Street on Tuesday, 3rd Street on Wednesday, 4th Street on Thursday, and 5th Street on Friday, and then repeat. There could be play streets in the afternoon within five blocks every day of the week.

  2. The closing of streets to traffic to provide children with play space has a long history. It was one of the many attempts reformers made to improve life for children in congested cities at the turn of the century. Morrison has a great history of this at

    Apparently children used to be arrested for playing in the streets and the play streets movement came about to deal with this problem.

  3. In my old neighborhood, they used to close off my block on Halloween to have a street fair / give kids a safe place to trick or treat. It was so much fun, I’m surprised they don’t do it more places.

  4. I do hope SDOT will install more significant barriers soon. Those “horses” will not stop errant, elderly or angry drivers, as demonstrated in countless massacres including Santa Monica in 2003 and Venice Beach last year.

  5. Philadelphia has a play street permit that closes a block during summer months from 8am-4pm.

  6. Urban schools in New Jersey have been doing this for decades. Schools will regularly close a block next to a school during mid-day recess. Similar barriers seemed to work fine in Jersey and I think our drivers are a little more crazed than those in San Fran or Seattle.

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