No Kids Allowed to Play in Street, Canadian Neighborhood Decrees

CC BY 2.0. Natalia Medd -- God forbid you have to slow down for this on your way to a Botox appointment.

The "war on fun" is playing out on Vancouver Island and epitomizes the absurd battle between powerful car-drivers and vulnerable pedestrians.

Chemainus is a small town at the southern end of Vancouver Island, in British Columbia, Canada. Within Chemainus is a residential community called Artisan Gardens, where a mix of seniors and young families lived quietly until a decision made by their neighborhood council skyrocketed them to international notoriety.

The council at Artisan Gardens recently voted 15-4 to forbid children from playing on the streets that access the neighbourhood's cul-de-sac. The precise wording in the bylaw says:

"Any use of a roadway for any purpose other than access to and from strata lots and, where permitted, for parking is prohibited. Without limiting the generality of the foregoing, a roadway may not be used for play, including hockey, baseball, basketball, skateboarding, chalk artistry, bicycling or other sports and recreational activities."

So, in other words, if you're a kid living in Artisan Gardens, what you do out of necessity and instinct is less important than your elderly neighbors' desire to drive their cars. How sad.

Christa Howard, a local resident with a three-year-old daughter, is furious. "We’re being told to get our children outside and be active, and now we’re being told we can’t do that outside our own homes." (via the Guardian)

She told the Vancouver Sun that she "didn’t expect the bylaw to pass. We have never had any issues with the neighbours." As someone who describes herself as never protesting anything in her life, Howard is now speaking out. The Sun reports,

"She has been talking to local radio stations, newspapers, going on social media and hollering, in an utterly sane way, about a nonsense bylaw that is a throwback to all the other nonsense bylaws (remember Toronto’s ball hockey ban?) that have come and, thankfully, mostly gone over the years. 'I won’t back down,' she said. 'When it comes to my child, momma bear comes out.'"

Another resident, Vandy Noble, is a 66-year-old grandmother who voted against the bylaw. The Sun says she is the only council member willing to speak publicly about the ban, which "sprang from a genuine concern for the kids’ safety, but went haywire in its scope and execution."

You could say that again! To think that such a discriminatory ban could pass against individuals that represent 16 percent of the Canadian population, and forbid them from engaging in their most natural and necessary behavior, is appalling. It essentially jails the kids in their homes.

"It's a roadway," some might counter, and roads and kids aren't supposed to mix; but that's overlooking the fact that it's only in recent decades that roads have been co-opted by cars. They used to be communal spaces, gathering places for children to play and adults to meet each other. Why should a car owner's love for speed trump that a child's right to play? It comes down to many drivers not wanting to slow down, not wanting to share, not wanting to have their "style cramped" by runaway balls and pesky small humans.

We live at a time when getting kids outside to play is more important than ever. Their mental and physical health is suffering from all the time spent indoors, usually playing computer games, watching online videos, or hanging out on social media. It's driving up suicide rates, triggering ADHD symptoms, inducing depression, and preventing sleep. The outdoors is the best antidote we have, in conjunction with removing (or at least minimizing) the devices in kids' lives, so to take that away from the children of Artisan Gardens is tantamount to abuse.

siblings on a bike

Kasey Eriksen -- Children on Vancouver Island used to be able to ride their bikes freely, as shown in this old photo. I guess they've forgotten how it felt?/CC BY 2.0

The ironic thing, of course, is that many of these car-driving grumps (who were once learning to ride bicycles on urban sidewalks themselves) will soon be elderly, sight-impaired, and struggling to hobble across these same streets in time before a car comes tearing around the corner. At that point, they might very well wish they'd defended children's rights to the street, if for no other reason than they might avert premature flattening themselves. (But then, who knows. Maybe the inconvenient old people will be barred in their homes by the younger generation of grudge-holding kids-turned-adults who've been taught that cars are all that matters and it's too risky to let them out. Let's hope not, although the council members are really asking for it.) When you force cars to slow down and respect the others who use the same space, in whatever form that may be, you create a space that is safer for everyone, including the drivers themselves.

Noble says the council is "trying to calm down the situation and reach a compromise." It will be interesting to see what that compromise looks like, and whether it will be fair to all residents of the neighborhoods, regardless of their size and political clout. The old folks would do well to remember the wise words of Dr. Seuss from Horton Hears A Who: "A person's a person, no matter how small."