Seattle families: How to shut down your street so kids can play (yes, really!)
This Play Street drew kids from the Broadview neighborhood.
PHOTO: JOSHUA HUSTON
The Seattle Department of Transportation (SDOT) issues permits for Play Streets — the legal closure of non-arterial streets to thru traffic to allow people to socialize and play safely — year-round, but find that they are unpopular during wintertime.
“Colder, wetter weather and less daylight make outdoor activities less appealing,” says Dawn Schellenberg, SDOT spokeswoman.
So why gear up and play outside in the cold?
“Even in winter, kids still want to be outside,” Schellenberg says. “And closing your block provides a safe space right outside the front door.” There are health benefits, too.
“No matter what season it is, spending time outside promotes active lifestyles, exercise, and better mental health,” says Ying Zhang, family physician with UW Medicine and a Seattle mother to Grayson, 3. “I love watching my tot’s imagination come alive when he plays with random sticks, rocks, and leaves on the ground.”
As a bonus, she notes, outside playtime encourages communication and intentional time together when fully disconnected from phones and screen time.
Keeping these benefits in mind, hosting a winter Play Street makes sense, but rallying neighbors to attend may come as a challenge.
“Consistency and communication are the key to having a great Play Street,” says Schnellenberg. Try printing invitations decorated by neighborhood children and hand-delivering them together to ensure all neighbors, including those on adjoining streets, get invited to the Play Street.
PHOTO: JOSHUA HUSTON
She also suggests applying for a recurring Play Street permit to “create visibility and provide over time awareness that something cool is happening.”
Another way to entice neighbors to join in is to assign a theme like “Glow-in-the-Dark Play Street” where each attendee receives an inexpensive glow stick during nighttime play.
Schellenberg proposes a “Game Day” theme, where neighbors play flag football or street hockey during a Play Street before the TV watching and feasting begins. Just remember to follow all SDOT safety guidelines for barricading and monitors for proper visibility.
Once you have support from your neighbors, there’s plenty of winter fun to be had!
Set up an obstacle course incorporating ride-on toys and puddle jumping. Supply children with pails to collect natural objects, or plan scavenger hunts where neighbors hide clues in their respective yards. At the end of the game, the kids will have a communal treasure chest full of outdoor toys. Fill a kiddie pool with rocks and experimental toys or old pots and utensils where children can prepare “meals.”Remember to provide comfort by draping cozy blankets over lawn chairs, keeping guests extra warm and providing a canopy for quick refuge from the elements to keep people coming.
With all the memories you’ll create, Play Street will become a year-round tradition in no time.
Visit the city website to download a permit application, which can be submitted online or in person, and allow at least 14 days to obtain the permit.