Bridging social gaps by transforming roads into Play Streets

Kounkuey Design Initiative, Los Angeles, USA.

SDG 3: Good health and well-beingSDG 5: Gender equalitySDG 8: Decent work and economic growthSDG 10: Reduced inequalitiesSDG 11: Sustainable cities and communitiesSDG 16: Peace justice and strong institutionsSDG 17: Partnerships for the goals
Kounkuey Design Initiative (KDI) is a non-profit design and community development organization that partners with under- resourced communities to advance equity and activate the unrealized potential in their neighborhoods and cities. KDI has been taking experiences from working in informal settlements in the global south to other vulnerable areas globally, including to middle and high- income countries where high levels of inequality persist.

For generations the streets of Los Angeles served as informal play spaces for children. In recent decades cars have increasingly dominated the streets, with little accommodation for other needs such as safe and accessible spaces to play. Meanwhile research has shown that children’s’ play has a key role in their physical health and intellectual and social development. The possibility for everyday spontaneous play becomes particularly important for poorer children who lack access to many sports and recreation facilities.

Good practices & solutions

The largest public space available in Los Angeles is the 7,500 miles street network that links neighbourhoods and communities. The L.A.“Play Streets”Pilot Program helped residents temporarily transform Los Angeles City streets into places for play, learning, and fun for all ages. In 2015 and 2016 KDI hosted seven“play streets demonstration”events in five park-poor, under-resourced neighbourhoods across the city in partnership with the LA Department of Transport. Play streets can only be held for one day but are recurring more often – transforming streets into semi-permanent public spaces and creating new child-centered and child-driven spaces for recreation, learning, exercise, and culture.

Outcome & opportunities

Play Streets enhance community cohesion and improve community safety. They provide mechanisms for improving health and accessing resources. Play streets can also be integrated into permanent street infrastructure by adding play elements to sidewalks, parklets, plazas, or shared streets or permanently closing of a street for cars. In one instance, gang members who saw the play streets happening repeatedly in their neighbourhood, stopped doing graffiti there and by the third event they put out their basketball hoops onto the street for the kids to use.

Lessons learned & recommendations

Involving the community in the development of productive public spaces, whether temporary or permanent, creates a sense of care and management as well as creating learning and employment opportunities for the community. It is shown here that this kind of context and human based thinking is transferrable as long as it is adapted and grounded in the particular local context. Participation, listening, questioning and close involvement with the group or community you are trying to partner with should be universal. Being embedded in those communities is key when you work with vulnerable populations. It is possible to develop innovative projects, and a rigorous participatory process is the best way to build on the potential of residents and uncover that innovation.

Related SDG targets
  • 3.6 By 2020, halve the number of global deaths and injuries from road traffic accidents
  • 5.5 Ensure women’s full and effective participation and equal opportunities for leadership at all levels of decision-making in political, economic and public life
  • 8.3 Promote development-oriented policies that support productive activities, decent job creation, entrepreneurship, creativity and innovation, and encourage the formalization and growth of micro-, small- and medium- sized enterprises, including through access to financial services
  • 10.2 By 2030, empower and promote the social, economic and political inclusion of all, irrespective of age, sex, disability, race, ethnicity, origin, religion or economic or other status
  • 11.2 By 2030, provide access to safe, affordable, accessible and sustainable transport systems for all, improving road safety, notably by expanding
    public transport, with special attention to the needs of those in vulnerable situations, women, children, persons with disabilities and older persons
  • 11.3 By 2030, enhance inclusive and sustainable urbanization and capacity for participatory, integrated and sustainable human settlement planning and management in all countries
  • 11.7 By 2030, provide universal access to safe, inclusive and accessible, green and public spaces, in particular for women and children, older persons and persons with disabilities
  • 16.7 Ensure responsive, inclusive, participatory and representative decision- making at all levels
  • 17.17 Encourage and promote effective public, public-private and civil society partnerships, building on the experience and resourcing strategies of partnerships
Further reading

Photo: © KDI

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Project: Urban Girls Movement