Children jumping rope in Duxton Plain at the PlaystreetsSG event last weekend. The initiative by the Singapore Wellness Association aims to get people moving by turning neighbourhood streets into giant playgrounds.Photo: The Straits Times
For two days in May, Caseen Street at Robertson Quay became a playground, with people playing hopscotch and jumping rope.
This was the Singapore Wellness Association's first PlaystreetsSG event, part of the SRFun weekend of riverside festivities – made possible by the Streets for People scheme.
Since it was started a year ago, the Urban Redevelopment Authority (URA) scheme has supported 10 events involving road closures, from Keong Saik Road in Tanjong Pagar to Maju Avenue in Serangoon Gardens.
More events have taken place outside this umbrella.
PlaystreetsSG, for instance, has taken place elsewhere without the URA's help. The latest event last Saturday was at Duxton Plain and more are to follow in neighbourhoods such as Jurong East.
This is just what the scheme aims to encourage. Said URA director of place management Jason Chen: "In the long run, we hope that the programme will prepare the community to implement more of such road closure initiatives independently."
Streets for People was launched last July to support ground-up ideas for temporary car-free zones.
The URA helps to link organisers up with relevant government agencies, and provides seed funding and essentials such as safety barriers.
In March, for instance, cafe owner Ejan Arahman and artist Samantha Lo held Barter Market 2.0 in Jalan Pisang in the trendy Arab Street area. Artists, barbers and bakers shared their wares and services – without cash changing hands.
"People were trading books, food and drink for art and services," said Ms Ejan, who owns the halal cafe, The Lab, in Jalan Pisang.
She and Ms Lo found out about Streets for People "accidentally", while applying for approval to close the street. A URA staff member mentioned the scheme and asked to see their proposal.
"I was actually waiting to hear (the URA) say no," recalled Ms Ejan. "We were quite surprised that they were so supportive.
"We heard about other street parties and events that they were supporting. I thought it was very cool."
At first, the scheme was only for events by local businesses or residents. But it was soon expanded to let applicants hold events beyond their area, "to enable more people to experience the vibrancy and benefits of such car-free initiatives", said Mr Chen.
For Singapore Wellness Association executive director Sonia Ong, the scheme helped to make her long-held PlaystreetsSG idea a reality. Public streets have been turned into into playgrounds in countries such as Britain and the United States for decades, she said.
Despite wanting to do so in Singapore for years, she was not sure if she would be able to get permission.
"When Streets for People was announced, it gave me a sense that the time was right to start doing this; that the Government was open to such ideas," she said.
And, like the URA, she hopes the idea of making streets fun will take off among the community.
"We hope to help residents learn how to apply for road closures, so that they can run a 'playstreet' on their own," she said.
Here are some upcoming events which turn public streets into play areas.
Let's Lepak at Mount Faber
Where: Mount Faber Loop
When: Aug 6, 4pm to 7pm
Mount Faber will come alive with arts and crafts, music and fitness events.This is the start of a three-month trial, with Mount Faber Loop to be closed to traffic on the first Saturday of every month.
Kampung Playstreets! and Pop-up Playground
Where: Baghdad Street
When: Aug 6, 4pm to 7pm
On the first Saturday of every month, a stretch of Baghdad Street in Kampong Glam will become an outdoor playground featuring traditional Malay games.
Held in partnership with the Malay Heritage Centre, it is part of the Singapore Wellness Association's PlaystreetsSG effort.
Written by Janice Heng for The Straits Times.