SOUTH DEERFIELD – In the name of providing a safe space for children to play in the streets as in the past, Cross Street will be closed to through traffic from 3.30pm to 6pm on Friday.
Organized in Deerfield by Merril Miceli, the Play Streets initiative is a national initiative to create temporary car-free zones where children and neighborhoods can meet on the streets to spend active time outdoors.
“The inspiration is to encourage community building, relationship building and getting kids playing outside together,” Miceli said. “I hope this is a first event among many others.”
She added that a designated play area can help parents feel safe letting their kids run around the neighborhood, as safety issues are often “one of the big hurdles” that prevent children from being assets.
“As you build community…then hopefully people feel confident and comfortable that their kids are going out more independently and feel safe to do so,” he said. she declared.
For two and a half hours on Friday, Cross Street will be blocked at its Eastern Avenue and Graves Street intersections. Signs and barricades will be placed on the street to indicate that the street is closed, but residents who live on the street will be allowed to cross slowly if necessary. Parents are encouraged to stay with their children to foster adult community as well. No pre-determined activities will be organized as Miceli explained that this is a child-led experience, but balls, chalk and other simple materials will be available.
Miceli, who is an early childhood educator, said the benefits of outdoor play are “endless” as children’s physical and mental health is enhanced. She also founded the Forest Folk outdoor education program in Amherst.
Outdoor play, she said, is “how we learn to be a collaborator, to think selectively, to develop empathy and compassion.”
The city and Police Chief John Paciorek Jr. approved Miceli’s plan as long as street parking is closely monitored. If Play Streets is successful, Miceli would like to host another one this summer, an idea Paciorek is open to.
“Giving you permission certainly places a substantial responsibility on myself and the community,” Paciorek wrote in an email included in Selectboard’s March 9 meeting folder. “We’ll see how long one goes and then we’ll have a discussion about time two or three.”
Miceli said the event will take place rain or shine, and “it’s exciting that community members are interested” in bringing their children.
“There’s still a lot of joy playing outside in the rain,” she noted.
Chris Larabee can be reached at [email protected] or 413-930-4081.