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Philadelphia’s Playstreets program gives a glimpse of what a Summer of Play could look like everywhere.

Philadelphia’s Playstreets program gives a glimpse of what a Summer of Play could look like everywhere.

Photographer: Ken McFarlane/Philadelphia Parks & Recreation

CityLab
Culture

Let’s Declare This the Summer of Play

After a harrowing pandemic year, communities should roll out policies to give the streets back to kids.

On July 5, 1976, Philadelphia capped off the nation’s bicentennial celebrations not with flags and fireworks — all those grand displays were held on the 4th — but with play. Frisbee Golf on Winter Street. Paper airplanes at Logan Circle. Kid-sized pick-up sticks at 20th and Parkway. Music was provided by a giant xylophone and kazoos on Park Town Place and a Jamaican steel band at 22nd Street.

This grand day of play was organized by Bernie DeKoven, a game designer and “fun theorist” who believed “being at play together is being in flow together,” quoting psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, known for his theory that humans are happiest in a state of absorption within an activity. Given the right environment, given permission to join in the fun, humans have the ability to “form play communities.”