Back in the olden days of my youth, the kids on my block used to race home from school, throw their schoolbooks onto the floor , run back outside and play sports until it was too dark to see and/or someone’s Mom started yelling at everyone to go home for dinner.

So why is it that I never see any kids playing outside anymore?

Maybe it’s because:

  • all the parents are freaked out that their kids will be abducted or run over in front of their house…
  • or the kids are inside playing video games and/or texting their friends…
  • or that cranky neighbour on the block keeps complaining to the city about the noise made by kids playingand the city decided that it’s better to shut up a cranky old SOB than to have our kids out in the fresh air getting some exercise.

road hockey canada

It’s not as if we have a childhood obesity problem….

  • Oh yeah, we do have a childhood obesity problem.

It’s not as if rates of childhood type-2 diabetes have skyrocketed….

  • Oh yeah, rates of childhood type-2 diabetes have skyrocketed.

It’s not as if exercise helps our kids live healthier lives, reducing rates of obesity, diabetes, depression, anxiety….

  • Oh yeah, exercise does help our kids live healthier lives, reducing rates of obesity, diabetes, depression, anxiety

obama-basketball

It’s not as if exercise helps our kids score better grades at school….

  • Oh yeah, exercise does help our kids score better grades at school

It’s not as if exercise helps our kids develop emotional & social skills while reducing symptoms of ADHD….

  • Oh yeah, exercise does help our kids develop emotional & social skills while reducing symptoms of ADHD

healthy-kids health fitness healthhabits

It’s not as if the value of unstructured play amongst their peers has been scientifically proven to be superior to organized sports in terms of physical, emotional & mental health….

  • Oh yeah, unstructured play amongst their peers has been scientifically proven to be superior to organized sports in terms of the physical, emotional & mental health of our kids.

It’s not as if the cost of organized sports is becoming too expensive for more & more families….

  • Oh yeah, the cost of organized sports is becoming too expensive for more & more families

It’s not as neighbourhoods in which adults & children create social ties (via pick-up sports or other activities) are perceived as better & safer…potentially increasing real estate values.

  • Oh yeah, neighbourhoods with a sense of community are universally perceived as better & safer.

rink - skating outdoor

So why is it that instead of encouraging our kids to be physically active in their neighbourhood, city bureaucrats elect to play Grinch and confiscate their portable basketball net?

Seriously…this is no joke. Police in Ohio literally stopped a bunch of kids from playing hoops in front of their house, dragged away their portable basketball net and fined the adult owner…even after the owner offered to move the net.

How’s that for Serve & Protect?

But that’s not the end of this sad story.

As videos of this type are wont to do…it went viral…with the local news media running it over and over and over, making the police and lawmakers look like total jackasses.

And because no one likes to look like a jackass….when it came time for the net owner to have her day in court, the prosecutor dismissed the case….hoping that the problem will go away and that the tv people will move on to another story. Which it did 😦

And it’s not just in Ohio. Earlier today, I was talking to a Mom in my hometown of Toronto who had a similar story.

She was recently told by the city that she had to remove the portable basketball net that she put up for her kids and their neighbourhood friends….or the city would fine her and remove the net.

And what reason did the city use to demand the removal of the basketball net from the edge of her residential cul-de-sac?

Because it was a danger to garbage collectors.

Sure, they can navigate around parked cars and avoid piles of snow in the winter, but a portable basketball net…that’s a whole different story.

Obviously this is total BS.

And according to my Twitter pal, the real story is that an alleged neighbour, who allegedly works for the city, allegedly complained that the kids were allegedly making too much noise.And because all bureaucracies favor nepotism over common sense, the basketball net had to go.

(see how I avoided a lawsuit by using the word allegedly…smart huh?)

But wait, let’s forget about the BS story about the garbage collectors…what about the children? We all “know” that city streets can be dangerous. And a lot of us believe that city roads were built for automobiles and that kids (or adults) have no business being on the road in front of their house?

IMHO, that is another pile of BS.

One of the fastest growing concepts being used by city planners all around the world, known as the living street or woonerf, is based on the idea that city streets aren’t the exclusive domain of the automobile and that by using a variety of methods…

  • Streets are often built at the same grade as sidewalks, without curbs.
  • Cars are limited to a speed that does not disrupt other uses of the streets (usually defined to be pedestrian speed).
  • To slow down drivers, the street is set up so that a car cannot drive in a straight line for significant distances, for example by placing planters at the edge of the street, alternating the side of the street the parking is on, or curving the street itself.

…drivers are forced to pay attention, slow down, and not treat residential street like main arterial roads. And I think we can all agree that a cul-de-sac should never be confused with a main arterial road.

And while there are still a bunch of city bureaucrats in Ohio & Toronto who have declared war on kids playing hoops or road hockey in front of their homes, there are some brave souls in city government who see the concept of living streets as one to investigate.

While Holland has thousands of woonerfs, Toronto is about to get our first.

Just think, maybe in a few years, Toronto’s elected officials & it’s bureaucracy will see the benefit of:

  • slowing down drivers on our residential streets…
  • allowing our kids to play pick-up street hockey games with their friends…
  • and even getting us old folks outside to sip coffee and chat while watching our kids grow healthy & strong

Then again…maybe it’s better that our residential streets are turning into racetracks and that our kids are growing up fat and unhealthy.

(Apologies for that last sentence…writing this article got my inner Norma Rae worked up)

What would my inner Norma Rae do next?

Toronto is in the midst of an election campaign. On October 27, we go to the polls to elect a new Mayor and a gaggle of councillors, As such, now is the perfect time to give the candidates an opportunity to look like a defender of children and a slayer of stupid bureaucracy.

Here’s what I propose.

And if you can’t do any of that…organize a big road hockey game for this weekend and send me an invite 🙂

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