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Making Streets Safe for Play in North Baton Rouge

Wallis Watkins

It’s a Saturday afternoon in North Baton Rouge. While cars drive down busy Evangeline Street, there are none to be seen on two blocks in the Brookstown neighborhood. Instead, kids are in the street, running, playing basketball, and jumping rope. 

"We’re here in Brookstown. We’re on Broadway Street, where we’ve closed down two blocks to traffic to let kids play in the street," says Dr. Stephanie Broyles, assistant professor at Pennington Biomedical.

Dr. Broyles helped bring Play Streets to Baton Rouge, a program designed to create more space outside for kids to be active.

Tara is one of the neighborhood kids. "We’ve been doing the balance beam, hurdles, basketball and hula hoop," she says.

With half of Louisiana’s children overweight or obese, the idea is to remove those obstacles that keep them from getting physical activity. "Parents are worried about letting their kids be outside unsupervised.  They’re worried about people driving too fast down the street," says Broyles, and "they're worried about the 'stranger danger.'"

Those obstacles run deep in Brookstown. Marcia Pete lives in the neighborhood. Everyone there calls her “Ms. Renee.” She says it’s hard for the kids in Brookstown to find a place to run around and be active. "They have no place to go, they really don’t. We had a park up there. They closed it up and they didn’t fix it back," she explains.

Brookstown is considered a play desert, says Diane Drake, Assistant Director of Evaluation and Partner Development for BREC. "A play desert," she says, "is a community that either does not have, or lacks, sufficient playground activities. They may have playgrounds, but they may be old and dilapidated. They may also be unsafe."

Dr. Robert Newtown, assistant professor at Pennington, says that’s why they chose Brookstown. He explains that in North Baton Rouge, "parks are not as plentiful, safe parks are not as plentiful, safe environments are not as plentiful. So if we can change some of that, we can make some of the environments safer, we’re hoping that the children will come out and play more."

For the next two Saturdays, Play Streets will be back in Brookstown, turning the street into a playground once again. Pennington is hoping to create a blueprint for the event that will make it easy for other neighborhoods to do the same.