Part of Francis Avenue, Southsea, was closed for 3 hours to traffic on Sunday 21st July for children to play in their local area. This was organized by local mum Laura Mellor of Play Out Pompey. This follows recent roadworks to install speed tables which enabled children to use the usually busy street as a play space. This allowed friendships between local children to form, and then between neighbours who were more often at the front of their houses. After the roadworks were removed, local residents decided to try make the streets safe for play again. This is great for community relationships and a great example of what is possible if we claim space back from car usage. It also raises awareness of the air quality problem and some of the measures that can be used to tackle it. We need to make car usage less convenient and make our urban spaces more pleasant for pedestrians and cyclists.
Organizing such a road closure is quite an achievement and involves quite a bit of work. Permission was needed from Portsmouth City Council (PCC) to close the road. I understand Suzy Horton, Steve Pitt and the Active Travel Team were very helpful in overcoming bureaucratic challenges. Then every household on the Francis Avenue was asked for their opinion on the scheme, even though only a part of the road was to be closed. The vast majority of residents were supportive of the scheme. The diversions needed to be planned. Signs were borrowed from PCC. Contacting the residents found several other parents willing to help organize and steward on the day. About six stewards kept watch on the road and answered motorists questions as needed. A stewarding rota was organized so people could take a break. The organizers had to get public liability insurance to reduce their personal legal risk.
At the designated time, road closure signs and cones were positioned. Local residents who wanted to park in the closed section were escorted at walking speed to a parking space, which only occasionally happened. After about an hour, the road was full of children playing, often with parents. I thought about cycling through the area but it was simply too busy!
Not all residents were happy with the event. They were concern over congestion and possible car damage. Using nearby school playgrounds out of school time was suggested, but this is still not as local as playing outside your own house and making friends with neighbours.
The event was attended by the Mayor, and local councillors Suzy Horton, Darren Sanders and two PCSOs. Suzy said she was looking for an opportunity to do this kind of road closure for some time but felt it was best for an apolitical organizer to take the initiative. Play Out Pompey was the first such road closure and was a learning process for the council, as well as the organizers. There is a good chance the process will be streamlined for future events. Laura hopes to repeat the event some time soon. It might be good to do this kind of event as part of the annual clean air day, perhaps on a road that has not been previously closed.
Playing Out is a small charity that helps parents organize road closures for children’s play.