Sunday Streets to Expand With Neighborhood-Oriented “Play Streets for All”

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San Francisco’s Sunday Streets will continue to grow next year with a new program designed to bring more neighborhood-oriented car-free street events to places that lack park space.

Kids playing at a Sunday Streets event in the Tenderloin. Photo: Bryan Goebel

“Play Streets For All,” a collaboration between Livable City, the SF Municipal Transportation Agency, and public health organizations, will introduce a smaller-scale version of Sunday Streets, making it easier for residents to close a block or two to cars and open them up for play and community-building.

The pilot program, which will be held in addition to regular Sunday Streets events, will target neighborhoods that suffer from high rates of childhood obesity and lack safe places for kids to play.

“We need to remember that keeping kids active isn’t a secret — sometimes the answer is simply providing places for kids to be kids,” said Mayor Ed Lee in a statement. “Play Streets for All will build on our Sunday Street resources and organizing expertise to create family-friendly, safe recreational space in neighborhoods that need it most.”

Sunday Streets organizer Susan King said four neighborhoods are set to see Play Streets next year: the Tenderloin, Chinatown, Bayview, and the Western Addition. The exact dates and locations, along with the rest of the Sunday Streets schedule, will be announced by early January, she said.

“Due to its great success, the current demand for Sunday Streets outpaces our capacity to reach every community that wants to host these events,” said SFMTA Director of Transportation Ed Reiskin in a statement. “Play Streets for All is a simple, straightforward solution that will help make more of our streets available for kids of all ages to enjoy in safe, fun and healthy ways.”

The program should provide an easier channel for residents to hold smaller, community-based car-free street events, which have been tough to organize because of an arduous bureaucratic process and a host of questionably high fees levied by city agencies. By minimizing city staffing costs and simplifying the process, the Play Streets program “presents a nimble and inexpensive approach for creating temporary open space,” a news release said. The effort will include local workshops, led by Sunday Streets and the non-profit organization SF Beautiful, to get neighborhood organizers up to speed on “best practices” for holding successful events, said King.

“The idea behind Play Streets for All,” she said, ”is to provide support for neighborhood activists to produce and manage their own car-free streets events on a smaller scale to make the opportunities provided by neighborhood open streets events (like Sunday Streets) happen more often in areas that lack open space and recreational resources.”

Play Streets will have a stronger emphasis on improving public health than the regular Sunday Streets program — it’s funded in part by a $50,000 grant from California Blue Cross and Anthem Blue Shield, and one of the organizers is the Partnership for a Healthier America — created in conjunction with First Lady Michelle Obama’s “Let’s Move!” campaign – which is launching Play Streets programs in ten cities.

“We can’t wait to see the initiative in action,” said PHA President Lawrence Soler, ”to see kids running around these new spaces and to hear sounds of traffic replaced by sounds of kids at play.”