How to organise a Play Street

The little ankle biters play on this street almost every non-drenched day. The neighbours know/hear them. During our walks/rides, we recognised other anklebiters/ bobbling mops of hair and feet playing on their minuscule slice of footpath. Imagine uniting all our little slices and little people. Thus a street for play.

Why not.

These folks have been doing it right for some time. Inspired by such creative acts of community, I thought this wedge of asphalt needed a temporary makeover. Nothing fancy, just a closed street so the anklebiters can play TOGETHER. Sure, a few balloons and bubbles to make other passbyers go, “This is a neat street.”

Although low key (chalk, tables, a few chairs), it was grand. The anklebiters never talked to me save to ask if they could have a piece of chocolate (only one) or crisp (no, not the bag, a handful). Neighbours introduced and chatted. Future plans made (bonfire night, community garden, next play street). Granted there was a hiccup at the beginning: the wind knocked down the parasol attached to the table presenting the potluck of snacks. Not the velvet cupcakes. Oh no the vegan pralines! Did my favourite glass bowl just shatter? Not to be deterred, we all hopped back into our respective homes and returned with replacements. People from other neighbourhoods joined in. All children welcomed here.

Interested in starting your own? Give yourself a juicy peach and just say yes. The official process requires

  • Dusting off your social skills and talking to your neighbours (they won’t bite, promise!)
  • Requesting permission from council which may involve, neighbour letters, risk assessment, a street map and an application (7 weeks for approval here!)
  • Distributing flyers/reminders to move vehicles, bring cheer, chairs and something to share
  • Thinking how simple or elaborate you want the hours to unfold. Pentanque? BBQ?
  • And on the day of, check that wind, blow up some balloons and play.



What time is the street ballet?

The ballet of the good city [footpath] never repeats itself from place to place, and in any one place is always replete with new improvisations.

-Jane Jacobs

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The diversity of urban life lends itself to street ballet every minute every day. As diversity has a spectrum, so echoes the spectrum of the street ballet. The Meanwood ballet’s got nothing on the St Kilda’s ballet. And I would say St Kilda’s street ballet is akin to Venice Beach’s ballet. No destinations? No people. No people? No ballet. William H Whyte was right. People are attracted to people. In neighbourhoods, that means that there are places to see and be seen.

Lucia’s Neigbourhood by Pat Shewchuk and Marek Colek elucidates the manifold footpath improvisations occurring in one girl’s neighbourhood. Like Have you Seen my Dragon? or Footpath Flowers, a child walks through the neighbourhood. The intent here, however, is to give you a tour. From an early morning walk through the park, to the opening of the corner shops all the way through evening night markets, Lucia narrates the life of the people in her neighbourhood. She even lends cultural credo by talking about the Senhor Da Pedra festival where the street is decorated like Portugal. Lucia talks about porches, grandmas sitting in the sun, teenagers hanging out and the comings and goings of the tram driver. Illustrations are digitally rendered and are significantly replete with people.

Ankle biter 1 indulged me with this book. It’s not his thing. It encapsulates what he already lives. Honestly, he’d rather live it than read it. (And so he should). The problem with the tour concept is that for him, nothing happens. There’s no ‘adventure’ for him. (This book or this book provides ‘adventures’). It illustrates ‘community’ with all the people out and about but honestly, the static of the scenes doesn’t invite him to participate. Perhaps this will come back out when he’s ready to practice reading. Ahhhh for him to recognise the words ‘street ballet’, ‘neighborhood’ (even sans ‘u’) and porches.

I won’t lie. I ordered this week’s book right off the bat when I read that “seven-year-old-Lucia” was learning about Jane Jacobs. I should have read the title. It’s not blatantly about Jane; it’s about Lucia. This book, however, elucidates the type of neighbourhood that Jane would advocate. There is high movement and involvement among and between people due to the density, mixed neighbourhood uses and small street blocks. This is probably a cheeky primer for undergrads. For children, meh. Although this book is based on Montrose Avenue which has been internationally celebrated. Perhaps better as a moving piece rather than a static one?

Our street ballet usually involves dogs and small kids and sometimes a perusal of our library. Slowly the delight of the daily improv will radiate here. So what time is the street ballet? Depends. Who’s out on your street? What about your neighbourhood attracts other people?

Have we lost the art of wonder?

wonder. N. a feeling of amazement and admiration, caused by something beautiful, remarkable or unfamiliar.

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Even before the anklebiters (and perhaps more so now that they’re here), I have tried to relish in the serendipity of the everyday. The chance to see or experience how the world unfolds in the great outdoors. Both manmade and natural. Framing the world through these eyes has more than once urged others to see the world anew. “You see things differently.” Sure, it started in childhood because how could we not be impressed with water flowing from the sink or wind rustling through the trees or the tickling softness of a brown black caterpillar about to feast on the strawberry reserved for mum’s special treat? Somewhere along the line, boys and pop music and jolly ranchers obscured the vision but added alternative bouts of wonder. But an eighth grade English teacher re-invigorated these eyes, asking to scribble thoughts in a weeklong exercise of observation. And observe I did. The skies opened up with sherbet surprises announcing dusk. Silhouettes of Joshua trees square-danced in the moonlight. I remembered to look up and out and I haven’t stopped. I’ve been lucky. I haven’t lost the art of wonder.

This week’s book is the graphic corollary to my research. Children are experiential beings; they interact with the stimulus around them. Walking is just not walking it is truly the art of wonder. Sidewalk Flowers (or here abroad known as Footpath Flowers) written by JonArno Lawson and illustrated by Sydney Smith visually entertains such ideas. It is a graphic novella sans words and follows the neighbourhood escapade of a father and daughter. Daughter is enrobed in a red hooded jumper that contrasts with the black and white depictions of the neighbourhood. As Father and Daughter traverse the footpath, passing busstops, shopfronts, park benches, the scenery starts blooming. Colours slowly filter in as Daughter gathers flowers during the jaunt and redistributes such gems. Unbiased kindness as Daughter touches physically and metaphorically the lives she encounters all whilst Father projects an oblivious air as adults often do.

Ankle biter 1 sat through a reading. He didn’t seem impressed Although he did like the canine cameo. “Will he eat (the flowers)? Or is he saving them for later?” Without spoiling too much, he did have questions about the distribution of Daughter’s flowers in the park. I think this one is more for adults or older children than anklebiters. I enjoyed it immensely for all my ranting above. Being surrounded by children and seeing what they are seeing- truly, I cannot help but be immersed in wonder. Truth be told, you don’t need children to be amazed with what’s around you. Get out of your car and open your senses. Skill yourself in this art of wonder because it really isn’t lost it’s just unused.

Can we coexist in shared spaces?

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I missed a job application deadline.

I would have been a contender. Really. Yep, whip out those violins. Anyways, when investigating the position, I came across the UK’s first affordable cohousing project, Lilac. Imagine: living lightly on the earth and a village helping to raise children. I probably wouldn’t have done it pre-kids but now, I’d do it in a heartbeat. My husband possesses a directly opposite opinion, yea pre-, no post-babies. I suffer currently from a lack of community. But introduce me to a built-in community where my front entrance is a revolving door for little ones, nips of G & T and wedged for moments of silence. Why, yes please.

This all came to mind conveniently with this week’s book The Tree by Neal Layton. Birds, squirrels, owls and rabbits harmoniously live in the tree. Along come the humans with grandeur plans for a mansion in the wilderness. A dislodged nest manifests the reality of natural habitats and a new solution for shared space emerges. Whimsical illustrations coupled with minimal text portray subtle environmental satire reminiscent of Michael Leunig. Can we live lightly with respect to the ecosystem? Absolutely, if we scale down.

Ankle biter 1 and 2 enjoyed the simplicity of the book. The sparse text allowed Ankle biter 1 to narrate his own story. “What’s a drey?” I had to look that one up myself. “What is that cloth around the tree?” The first reading was a good one for Ankle biter 1, subsequent readings were not so as the book is too simple for his budding taste in longer narratives (i.e. chapter books). Ankle biter 2 though will humour me and sit through this short tale.

For me, this book is not exactly co-housing but definitely shared spaces in an infill-kind of way. It opens up questions about sprawl and development of treading lightly on the earth and co-existing with others. Build up not out. Will it instil compassion for others? Who knows, at least it gives a reference point when we see the highly sporadic fallen bird from the tree along our neighbourhood walks. A serious contender for best book about housing development for the young ankle biter set. What about you dear reader? Would you consider co-housing?

How to start a little free library

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Little free library.

Take one. Leave one.

I finally did it. I opened up my own little free library. It’s been something I’ve been wanting to do since my mother-in-law spied and frequented one back in Melbourne. Before we moved, I carted a few over and left some cherished but extra unneeded weight: David Sedaris, Bill Bryson and some Bronte. I always promised myself when we got settled wherever we landed, I’d establish my own nook of communal kindness.

free little library coming soon

To help you start your own, here are four things you need:

  1. You want to share and open your footpath space with others. For being a side street, we do get an awful lot of foot traffic: four-legged and otherwise. That being said, you do need to appropriate a space for your little library.
  2. You need a library: a container for your books. There are some neat ones out there to get you inspired like this one or this one. But here, Leeds is wet. And we’re all thumbs with wood and nails. So I’ve just been waiting for the perfect receptacle. It so happened that down the road, someone put out a lil bar fridge. It’s a bit small but it’s something. The seal works just enough to keep the rain and frisky cats out.
  3. You need books. Some kindred spirits passed along a few books which I never got an opportunity to read. So I shared them out along with some others: a mix of children and adults because that’s the kind of hood in which we live.
  4. Patience. It’s up to you how you want to promote your little library. We’re rather low key here and had a quiet opening. I’m solely relying on the paw and footfall. I’m considering it a summer trial: see if I have equal amounts of takers and leavers.
little free library open

Let summer reading begin!

We make space

“We recognise space as the product of interrelations; as constituted through interactions, from the immensity of the global to the intimately tiny.”

-Doreen Massey, For Space

Tickling in public

I have a love/hate relationship with pianos.

I love the way it sounds but hated my piano lessons. I was less than virtuoso as my piano teach fell asleep. When she nodded off, I would tick the telltale mark on the corner of the sheets to represent my accomplishment of the task and then wake her up. Completely, not a virtuoso. Fast forward to the present and my heart has softened when I see pianos, especially pianos in public. Music in public transforms the dynamic of the space. It can either add to the cacophony of mobile phone talkers, taxi horns, bus brakes or completely transform the air into a symphony. Luke Jerram cleverly introduced this international tickling installation and we were lucky enough to experience it.

Tickling in public

It’s no wonder that David Litchfield’s The Bear and the Piano amuses our hearts. This picturesque story is about a bear who stumbles upon an upright in the forest. As it does, curiosity gets the best of the bear and the bear begins a lifelong affection with the piano and the wondrous sounds emanating from it. One day, a human hears the melody and urges the bear to come to the city (evidently Broadway) to play. The bear is swept up in the adulation of its musical talent but then pauses to ponder the twin notions of belonging and home. The illustrations celebrate the juxtapositions of human and animal, shadows and light, urban and rural, solitary and communal. A sweet sweet story and a fine addition to the urban ankle biter library.

Ankle biter 1 enjoyed it because he is finally delving into the concept of story-telling. His omnipresent “Why’s?” are finally being answered as he sits patiently and lets the tale unfold. The book, he felt, required some push the button musical narration given the centrality of the piano. Nevertheless, he enjoyed the fact that bears can travel into the city and receive “stand up clapping.” I enjoyed it because the story is inspired by The White Stripes Little Room. Also, it shares the unity inherent in music, whether playing or listening. I am connected to you in this moment and we belong here. Such connection is best experienced in the great outdoors and we should tickle away (as every good boy does fine). What instrument would you like to play in public?