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stickbl4s.jpgAn article in Sunday's New York Times discussed the decline of stickball and other games on city streets:

The fun stopped, or moved inside, depending upon whom you ask, thanksto (pick two or three): television; two-income families;air-conditioning; digital technology; organized sports, crime; smallerfamilies and roomier apartments; too much homework and otherresponsibilities; diverse, less cohesive neighborhoods; and perhapsmost significantly, steady traffic, even on side streets.

Back in 2000, in response to an earlier Times article on the vanishing art of stickball, Park Slope resident Jeff Prant wrote a letter laying the blame squarely on cars. We're having trouble getting the link to the Times archives to work, but here's the salient passage:

We should remind ourselves, however, that these children's games didnot disappear because of lack of interest or a shift in demographics.They were forced out of existence by adult infatuation with automobiletravel.

On my block of Garfield Place, kids still enjoy playingoutdoors, but for them this means confinement to a five-foot strip ofsidewalk. Stickball or any other game played in the street would simplybe too dangerous to contemplate.

Our affection for the streetlife of New York's past could go beyond idle nostalgia if we take stepsto de-emphasize the auto in modern urban life and reclaim the street asa vital community resource. Today's children deserve the same safeaccess to our streets that an earlier generation remembers so fondly.

It may be on the wane on the streets, but stickball's place in New York lore seems secure -- an easily tapped well of nostalgia for politicians as well as newspapers. In his 2005 mayoral campaign, Rep. Anthony Weiner used an image of himself playing the iconic game (third ad from top) to promote his outer-borough everyman credentials. Now, of course, Weiner is a prime opponent of congestion pricing, one policy that might make the city's culture more friendly to street games once again.

If you're interested in the the games kids (and grown-ups) play outdoors, it's well worth checking out the excellent Streetplay site.

Photo: via Streetplay.com

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