Game Over

In some parts of the country, playing sports in the street is part of the urban culture, like stickball in New York. Generations of suburban kids have grown up, too, with a basketball hoop on the cul-de-sac and after-school games.
by | June 2004

In some parts of the country, playing sports in the street is part of the urban culture, like stickball in New York. Generations of suburban kids have grown up, too, with a basketball hoop on the cul-de-sac and after-school games. But increasingly, cities are taking a dim view of sports played in their streets. The reason is obvious: With so many cars competing for so little asphalt, street games are becoming increasingly dangerous. The Detroit suburbs of Warren and Novi have already banned sports on their streets and sidewalks. Now Dearborn is considering a similar ban. "It's always been an issue of safety," said one cop in Novi. "You don't want kids playing in the street. I don't care how careful they are, a car can come." And it isn't just in Michigan where public-safety advocates worry about children competing with cars. Cities in at least eight other states have banned either games or sports equipment (such as basketball hoops or hockey nets) on streets. "This is going to be a nationwide problem," said the manager of a Maryland town that outlawed sports equipment on city rights of way. "These things are everywhere." Footnote: So why do kids play games on city streets? Usually it's because a park or recreation center is too far away or their parents fear having them out of sight.

SUBURBAN DIVERSITY

Looking back, what will we say changed American suburbs the most in the early 21st century? Our nominee: the rapid-fire way they became racially and ethnically diverse. Although whites are moving back to inner-city neighborhoods, even more significant is the migration of minorities out to the suburbs. Take the Atlanta area. In the 1990s, DeKalb County became majority African American, and now Clayton County has joined it. Clayton's transformation has been both startling and ironic. Startling because it happened so fast, ironic because Clayton developed as a suburb largely as a result of the first great wave of "white flight" out of Atlanta in the 1960s. Now there's a second wave, this time out of Clayton. Consider the numbers: In 1990, Clayton was still 72 percent white (in the 1970s, it had been 90 percent white). Today, whites make up just 36 percent of the population; African Americans are nearly 57 percent. In November, Clayton County will elect a new group of county commissioners, and the chances are good a majority will be black. Said one African-American candidate for commission chair, "This is the watershed election." THE OFFICIAL CITY COLORS

Not only is graffiti a blight on cities but it can also be a sign of serious criminal activity, as street gangs use spray paint to warn others from their turf. So cities typically do two things to cut down on graffiti: They arrest the artists and paint over the markings (or require property owners to do the cover-ups). But they often don't match the original paint. A council member in the Los Angeles suburb of Santa Ana says the patches can be "almost as unsightly as the graffiti. It's messy." What to do? Santa Ana officials recently came up with a solution. If you'll paint your walls one of five city- approved colors, the city will give you a bucket of matching paint-- for free--whenever graffiti artists strike. Your choices: brown, two shades of white and two special colors created by a local paint supplier, Santa Ana Cape Cod Gray and Santa Ana Rustic, which is dark red. Won't this cost the city a bundle? Actually, the city government is hoping to save some money. These days, it dispatches city crews to paint over graffiti, spending $1 million a year for personnel and materials. Under the new program, the paint is free, but you have to apply it yourself.

STEP ON THE GAS UNTIL YOU HEAR GLASS

It's hard to compare car crash rates from one metro area to another, but Houston is clearly a place where a lot of people meet by accident, the Houston Chronicle reports. This problem came to light when the city was plagued by what seemed like an odd set of mishaps: People kept crashing into the city's brand-new light-rail trains. On any given day, traffic safety officials say, there are 242 serious car accidents ($1,000 or more in damages), and 500 or so fender-benders. More ominously, Houstonians are two and a half times more likely to be injured or killed per mile traveled than drivers elsewhere. "We are among the worst in the country," one safety expert said. "I haven't found a metropolitan area that's higher than ours." What accounts for this dismal record? A number of factors, the newspaper says, including congestion, poorly designed roads, not enough investment in traffic signals and too few traffic cops. Two other problems: a casual attitude about speed limits (said the mayor's traffic czar, "The joke I've always heard is, you just go 90 mph until you hear glass.") and a large population of illegal immigrants who do not have driver's licenses and are not trained in U.S. traffic regulations. Ultimately, experts say, Houston's accident rates may decline, as the light-rail system lures some of the lead-foot drivers off the roads. Assuming, of course, that the trains can survive all the drivers crashing into them.

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