Ball hockey to take over streets as pilot project launches in the Annex and Seaton Village

StreetPLAY, a pilot project that will open up residential streets for kids to play, launches on Thursday.

Street closure project, run by city and Earth Day Canada, starts in June and runs to October

Street hockey and other activities will be part of a pilot project to encourage kids to play on designated streets in The Annex and Seaton Village. (Grant Halverson/Getty Images)

Enza Gucciardi grew up on Markham Street, spending her summer days roaming the Seaton Village neighbourhood; meeting other kids to play and explore.

She's now raising her two children in the same house she grew up in but noticed how they — and other kids in the neighbourhood — don't get out like they used to. 

"Just going out and playing — I'd always be like, 'Who's outside? Let's go outside and see who's out there.'" Gucciardi said. 

"But that's not really the way it works anymore."

Families like Gucciardi's in the Annex and Seaton Village are now gearing up to "reclaim" their streets for activities like ball hockey, as StreetPLAY, a pilot project to open up residential streets to pedestrians and playing, is set to launch on Thursday. 

Currently, street hockey players have to move their nets each time traffic passes through the street or be subject to a $90 bylaw fine. 

"[The project] encourages people to be at home and outdoors. It'll be nice to play outside but I think it'll also be nice to get to know my neighbours," said Gucciardi. 

The pilot project, being run by Earth Day Canada and the city, will run from June until the end of October. It will open specific streets in the Annex (Markham Street, Follis Avenue, Clinton Street and Pendrith Street) for three to four hours, at determined times, up to three times a week.

NHL Hall of Famer Ken Dryden faced off against Toronto Police Superintendent Neil Corrigan in a game on Pendrith Street in April. (Earth Day Canada)

Closures on the streets can be one block or for the full length, and will be overseen by volunteers in the neighbourhood as they set up barricades in the spaces where kids can play. 

Deb Doncaster, president of Earth Day Canada, said the project has been community driven and about returning the streets to residents who live on them. 

It's introducing parents and communities back to the idea of outdoor, unstructured play, right outside your door, while it's warm.- Deb Doncaster, president of Earth Day Canada

Rather than each resident applying for a permit (at a cost of $89) to shut down the entire street each time, Doncaster said residents will be able to apply for one permit every year, to create a set play schedule on their street. 

"The next phase is allowing children to roam and have a bit more freedom than what childhoods represent today."

Reversing a ban

The city previously had a ban on ballplaying and other activities on several streets in the Annex without a permit. City council passed a motion in 2016 to repeal the ban. 

Ward 19 Coun. Mike Layton, who lives on Pendrith Street, said he's heard about complaints from some residents worried about possible noise disruptions with the incoming pilot project. But he supports the plan and said the bylaws banning activity on residential roads went too far. 

'No ballplaying' signs are coming down in neighbourhoods that have applied for permits under the pilot project. (Earth Day Canada)

"Sometimes those [bylaws] become more onerous than they need to be. And we need to look back on what they should be used for and what the intent was."

Layton added that while council is looking at how other cities are dealing with road closures in neighbourhoods, it's also the parents who are acting as "monitors" in the area to keep kids safe from traffic. 

"We all grew up playing on those streets. We know that it wasn't 100 per cent safe but let's figure out ways to make it safer so our kids can enjoy that same freedom that we all had," Layton said. 

"We're going to be guarding the barriers but otherwise you can just send your kids out. You don't have to be out there, because there aren't going to be cars," Gucciardi said.