With just a simple sand box, Paulo Nunes-Ueno has challenged the city to reimagine the balance between safety and active community life.
Nunes-Ueno is the transportation and sustainability director at Seattle Children’s and a promoter of neighborhood greenways. When he and his family moved to a new home in the Wallingford/Green Lake area, he installed their old sandbox in the planter strip in front of their home. It was an instant hit, but also raised some concerns.
On the new block, where the number of kids is estimated at between 15 and 20, and where many of the front yards are postage-stamp size, the sandbox became an instant gathering place for youngsters and their parents.
But not everyone approved. The city received an anonymous complaint that the sandbox, located at the end of the Nunes-Ueno driveway, violated city rules about play structures too close to the street.
The city sent him a warning he would be fined $500 a day if he didn’t remove the sandbox.
The city now has, if not a fight, at least a debate on its hands. Nunes-Ueno, a transportation and sustainability director for Seattle Children’s hospital, wants to nudge the city toward more varied uses of the street, planting strip and sidewalk. That means at least considering some streets could become as safe for kids to play on as for cars to drive.
At the heart of the neighborhood greenway dream is a chance not just for a bicycle route link or a few speed bumps, but a chance to change the way we look at the neighborhood streets where people and families live. Why should every single street (even the non-arterials) be reserved 24/7 solely as a space for cars to pass through?
To phrase it another way, if a sand box in the planter strip seems dangerous, then why not make the street safer instead of getting rid of the box?