Chaos Chronicles Friday To Do List: Start a Playborhood

by Lian on May 4, 2012

Playborhood: Turn Your Neighborhood into a Place for Play

Click here to read more about the book and author.

I’ve mentioned on Chaos Chronicles what a fan I am of the pocket park, mini public spaces  created by neighbors popping up in urban areas all over. The idea delights me that a median or a abandoned lot could become a garden or gathering spot for neighbors. Well, imagine combining the concept of a pocket park with the idea the kids playing outside is good for kids and good for the neighborhood. That’s exactly what author/advocate Mike Lanza has done with his treaty on turning your neighborhood into a place for play called Playborhood.

Mike Lanza is a software entrepreneur who has now turned his attention to getting kids all over America outside to play. The book contains lots of evidence about why free unstructured play is great for kids, if you weren’t already on board with that idea. But then, Mike goes several steps further to illustrate how parents all over the country have managed to create safe, fun places to play within their own communities and how the communities at large have benefited.

Mike himself lives in Menlo Park,  California, which if you haven’t been there, is pretty much paradise with safe neighborhoods and great weather. So it’s not hard to imagine kids happily playing outside in an environment like that. But that doesn’t mean they do, with the allure of high tech gadgets in every house ( it is the bedroom community for Silicon Valley, after all) and an emphasis on scheduled, organized activities. In Playborhood, we learn how and why Mike created his own Playborhood in Menlo Park, then moved on to create a national movement with his website, blog and book.

The most inspiring part of Playborhood is the examples of other successful attempts in all kinds of neighborhoods.  from a Summer Playstreet in The Bronx to a child-friendly New Urbanism community in Alabama to  a “Shared Square” in Portland, Oregon ( where else) where an ordinary intersection became a neighborhood gathering spot/kid club house/lending library. On the blog, you can find examples of backyard ice rinks that changed the dynamics of a community ( that’s for all you Minnesotans!). In most of the examples in the book, the Playborhood started as the idea of one neighbor who wanted to change the way their kids lived: outside rather than inside. And, I’m grateful that the solutions take into account that the majority of parents are working parents.

The reality is that thanks to video games, changing work situations for mothers, the race to work on kids college resumes and the 24 hour news channel that make us feel like their is a abductor on every corner, we’re raising a generation of  kids who don’t really know how to “go outside and play.”  Read Last Child in the Wood, Richard Louv’s groundbreaking work on Nature Deficit Disorder if you’re not convinced. I’m a fan of Lenore Skenazy’s Free-Range Parenting movement and the Playborhood concept  fits neatly into that idea. I’ve always felt that my kids were lucky to grown up on a relatively traffic-safe street with sidewalks . Plus, we have good weather in Pasadena. But even with all the physical attributes of a great Playborhood, it still took some planning ( and letting go)  on my part to get them outside for unstructured play. I spent a lot of days on the front stoop or checking out the window while working, keeping an eye on the squad of kids on our street running back and forth from house to house.  The mothers on the block created an alert system, a simple phone call — in the days before texts– with the message “They’re here.”  That meant the kids were somewhere in the vicinity and that was all we needed to know.

Wrestling with this issue yourself? Concerned that your kids spend too much time on the couch and not enough time engaged in creative, active play outside? No matter where you live or what your situation is, Playborhood will provide inspiration to turn your neighborhood into a place for play.

Embracing my Chaos,






William J. May 6, 2012 at 6:01 AM

Sue in New Jersey reminded me. We didn’t do stick ball in Oregon we did pickup baseball and football games. When is the last time you drove by a park and saw a pickup game? I do wonder that just isn’t a product of technology but also a product of safety now.

This book sounds really interesting. I am also going to read it.


Sue in NJ May 5, 2012 at 12:52 PM

Takes me back to stickball on the street! Glad to say my grandsons live on a block that’s a playborhood, with communal toys in front of every house or driveway. Lucky they are to live on a dead end street, too!

Sunshine May 5, 2012 at 8:41 AM

Isn’t it a shame that kids today can’t just go ‘exploring’ on their own. I remember living across the street from what I guess was a park around kindergarten age. My imagination provided hours of fun! I can remember playing in the stream and hunting for arrowheads and ink berries. I cannot image a parent allowing a child that young to wander by herself now.

I was the 4th of 5 children at the time. My oldest sister was 7 years older, so I assume one of my siblings was in the area while I played. I just don’t remember anyone else going with me on my adventures.

Beckett Graham May 4, 2012 at 4:29 PM

Awesome. I’m going to order this.

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