How many times were you told “Don’t play in the street!” when you were little? Well, these days there’s another message being passed along to youngsters. If the conditions are right, we should be encouraging young people to play in the streets. In order to create those perfect conditions, Blue Cross/Blue Shield has teamed up with GO Bike Buffalo, the City of Buffalo and the Common Council in order to apply for and competitively win a $50,000 grant that will bring community locations called Play Streets® to Buffalo. Buffalo was one of only ten cities nationally that was awarded the distinction to be able to move forward with the healthy living initiative to help prevent childhood obesity.
The way the initiative works is that from May through September, one weekend day is chosen where neighborhood children will be able to safely play in designated streets for a few hours at a time. Along with encouraging activities such as dancing and bike riding, a number of programmed initiatives will be added to enhance the experience, ranging from live music to farm stands with locally grown produce. While similar concepts have sprouted in other cities (such as Open Streets), this is the first time anything like this has transpired aside from block club parties, which don’t often promote activities other than eating, drinking and socializing.
The first Play Streets® have yet to be identified, but organizers are saying that they will be spread throughout the city and will likely be in close proximity to major parks. “With our commitment to improving the health of our community, BlueCross BlueShield is excited to work with the City of Buffalo and GObike to host Play Streets® – events that encourage individuals and families to play and be active,” said Alphonso O’Neil-White, president and CEO of BlueCross BlueShield of Western New York. “Our Healthy Changes Everything brand platform solidifies the company’s promise to help those in the community live healthier, happier lives. BlueCross BlueShield sees Play Streets® as a transformative program that will improve the health of our region and inspire people to make healthy choices.”
If there’s anyone who deserves the recognition for helping to pull these sorts of street-bound initiatives together, it’s GO Bike Buffalo Executive Director Justin Booth. “This is exactly the sort of program that GObike Buffalo is all about,” said Justin. “The grant we won will not only help promote walking and cycling this coming summer, but hopefully plant the seeds for expanded and more frequent Play Streets® in years to come.”
Also spearheading the initiative is Partnership for a Healthier America (PHA), along with block club associations, community groups and Buffalo Promise Neighborhood organizers. Other cities that have opened their streets to the residents have found that outdoor activities are on the rise and healthier children are the result. Often times the programs are so successful that more streets are added, or hours are extended. “Today in America, one in five kids doesn’t have access to a playground – that’s millions of children who can’t pick up a ball, run outside or have fun in a safe environment,” said PHA President and CEO Lawrence A. Soler. “We’re thrilled that BlueCross BlueShield of Western New York, GObike Buffalo and the City of Buffalo are proactively tackling this challenge by creating new Play Streets®. We can’t wait to see the initiative in action – to see kids running around these new spaces and to hear sounds of traffic replaced by sounds of kids at play.”