What does it take to be a Playbourhood? Here, and on our sister sites, we’ve offered a lot of opinions and commentary on what we think makes a great neighbourhood. But that’s just our opinion. What do you have to say on the topic? Is it the nearby park or a great school? Is it the weekly neighbourhood gathering where the kids play in the back yard while the parents hide out in the kitchen sharing coffee or some other more stimulating beverages? What about the spontaneous pick-up games of basketball that happen every day after school in the next door neighbour’s driveway? All of these things contribute to building happy communities. And when you start reading through the stories we post here, you’ll see that each Playbourhood is unique and what makes it special is the people who live there and how they interact. But, despite these differences, there are a few things in common. I’ve outlined seven of them below. Take a look and compare them to your own neighbourhood.
Take a minute and rate each question with a score between 1 and 10 (with 10 the highest) and then add up the results at the end.
1. Are you aware of your neighbours’ schedules and routines? Are they aware of yours? It’s not just helpful in a “neighbourhood watch” security sense, but it helps to know when the kids will be around to play. When I was a kid, my mother would regularly tell me to get the heck out of the house and go outside to play. Can you remember wandering from door to door asking if Betty was home and could she come out to play? That doesn’t happen much anymore, but knowing when the neighbours might be home sure would help with arranging a little play time out in the yard.
2. Do your neighbours socialize? I don’t mean saying hello when the kids are sharing ice time at hockey practice or while you’re waiting to pick them up from school. I mean, do you have a neighbourhood bbq in the summer or a holiday party in December? My own street is in a relatively new development and all our neighbours moved in to their homes within weeks of each other. Since we all started fresh, we made a point of getting to know each other. As our kids get older we don’t get together as often as we once did, but at the very least we still know everyone by name.
3. Is there a park nearby? Can the kids walk or ride their bikes to get there without having to stop for a bathroom break? Is it clean and is the playground equipment in good working order and safe? Do children of all ages gather there? Do they play together? Would you let your kids go to the park alone (if of course they were old enough)? When I was a kid we played in the park around the corner as much as we played in our own backyard. The only time we’d see an adult is when we were being called home for dinner.
4. Can the kids walk to school? Yeah, yeah… when I was a kid we walked to school 10 miles, uphill, barefoot, in the rain, both ways… All the jokes aside, kids who walk to school are healthier and more independent than those who are loaded into the mini-van and driven across town. They learn to explore their surroundings and develop a genuine connection to their community because they experience it first hand. Great neighbourhoods are based on people who connect with each other and with the spaces they inhabit. Walking is a perfect way to form those connections.
5. Mixed demographics. Although you’d think that the best neighbourhoods for kids are the ones where every house is occupied by a young family, that isn’t the case. There needs to be a good mix of families to make it really work. Streets with teenagers playing basketball next door to children playing tag next door to a retired couple tending their garden are the ones that are most successful. That’s because each age group has different priorities and schedules – which means with a mix, people are always going to be around And that increases the likelihood that kids will engage with their neighbours more often while they are outside playing.
6. Just say no to cul-de-sacs. Living on a quiet street is almost as bad as being on a busy thoroughfare. Small cul-de-sacs may reduce traffic, but they also have fewer neighbours to play with. Today, in many residential areas, the desire for quiet privacy has overtaken the need for community connection. While that may appeal to adults, our kids are social creatures and the more opportunity they have to make new friends the better. When I was a child, we were able to ride our bikes all the way around the block and had friends on the next street over. Being limited to our own street wasn’t a benefit; it was a form of punishment.
7. No Fences or Low Fences. Ditch the cliché about fences and neighbours. The truth is that without them the relationships between neighbours are stronger. When I was young, we had fences and so did most of our neighbours. But they were usually the chainlink or picket type – easy to see through and, for adventurous kids, easy to climb over. These simple barriers were meant only to restrain the family pet or wandering toddler or to keep the wild rabbits from ravaging the vegetable garden. Parents could easily keep an eye on their kids playing next door and they could have a chat with the neighbours while leaning on the top rail. Over the years, however, fences have become barricades of privacy that inhibit easy interaction. Neighbourhoods that sport the old fashioned fences are more likely to be kid (and adult) friendly.
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So, where are all the best neighbourhoods in Oakville? Tell us about the score you’re your street or area. I’ll post them here on the site to build a profile of the best areas in North Oakville for raising kids.