Free to play, good for morale… and the environment

The Montreal Regional Council for the Environment (CRE-Montreal) presented at its sixteenth sessionAnd Annual ceremony, Enterprise Prize for the Game Changing Project, for Professor Catherine Froehlich of the School of Public Health at the University of Montreal. The professor has designed a set of experimental projects that combine the concepts of school streets and play streets in different neighborhoods of Montreal and Canadian cities and that encourage free play among children.

For the first year of its creation, a street school was erected in the Saint-Michel district. Parc-Extension welcomed the pleasant street. Cycling, scootering, walking … The minutes per week spent on these streets promote the development of children’s social, mental and physical skills and make it possible to rethink one’s place in the city. “We’re giving the street back to the residents,” says Catherine Frolich. Yes, kids can do whatever they want, but parents, seniors, and people who live there can set up the spooky street as they see fit, whether it’s to eat for example or just relax. One of the nicest pictures I’ve had of the jovial street that we chose this year is of a chair that was given to a grandmother, maybe even a grandmother, because it looked big enough, so she could sit and watch the kids play. She was very beautiful.”

Various aspects have been taken into account when selecting the neighborhoods that will host the projects. Issues of social disparities in health led to the prioritization of two disadvantaged neighborhoods in Montreal for the first year, while in Kingston, Ontario, where the second intervention is taking place 2021-2022, the selection focused on two preferred neighborhoods. Next year it will be the other way around. All places had success in attendance and had many problems. The lack of volunteers, essential to the success of the project, resulted in the cancellation of a few days scheduled in the calendar. The advent of winter also played a major role in setting up the activities. While playing streets have been introduced in many countries, they are usually laid out in the months around summer. The Montreal project was the first in the world to be created during the cold season, which was not without its flaws: “We realized that the neighborhood kids didn’t go out. Since Parc-Extension is live for newcomers, it was found that young people didn’t always have clothes They don’t necessarily know what to do outside during this time of the year.” The researcher points out that at the end of March, activities resumed as if nothing had happened.

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Small step for a big project

Created to counter the decline of free games in Quebec and Canada in recent decades, the project required many hours of planning and negotiation with the various partners involved. Catherine Frolich and her team have been working closely with the Montreal Center for Urban Ecology since 2018 and the professor admits that she does not take any steps without initially being accompanied by the people who work there. She adds that the elected officials of the selected neighborhoods, the faculty and management of the selected schools as well as the residents of the affected neighborhoods are well aware of the projects that will be implemented in their area and the majority of them have only good comments. We recently conducted a small survey in rue école and 19 of the 20 people interviewed said they were very satisfied with the project. They stated, among other things, that the feeling of insecurity had diminished and that a good atmosphere had been created. “It’s very encouraging,” she said.

The researcher says that the first year was very useful and that the experience gained in 2021-2022 will be used in future projects. It has also been determined that the Ahuntsic-Cartierville neighborhood will host School Street and Fun Street for the 2022-2023 year.

For the award received by Catherine Frolich’s team, the professor sees it as hope for the future of free play and the environment. “What touches me a lot is that this is an award that has been won by a group of public health researchers, when in fact it is an environmental award. I am particularly proud of it because it means that we have succeeded in creating a multi-sectoral, multidisciplinary project that elevates free play as a hub that gets people thinking about climate change and pollution street traffic, children’s lack of independent mobility and the use of active transportation. This appreciation, along with our advocacy, helps us ensure that school streets and play streets gain popularity and are properly implemented.”

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Tess Larson

<p class="sign">"Tv geek. Certified beer fanatic. Extreme zombie fan. Web aficionado. Food nerd. Coffee junkie."</p>

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