The other day, I did some observing. Observing what happens on the residential streets surrounding a primary school at school pick up time. The battery on my watch was dead, so I didn’t really have an eye on the time to know exactly when school was ‘out.’ But I quickly realised that I didn’t need a watch. The patterns of movement, the ebb and flow of people were all I needed.
These were predominantly Victorian terraced streets. They form a sort of an enclosure around the school, with main roads on all sides marking the boundary of the block. Most with their own private gardens, there is minimal shared green space aside from one small park tucked away on one side. The main public space in this neighbourhood is the street. When I arrived (at around 3pm – I had my phone on me, that bit about my watch was just for dramatic effect..), the streets were very quiet. There were signs though that these are relatively people friendly streets, safe even. A carer pushed an elderly lady down the middle of the road in her wheelchair. Another man wheeled a wardrobe down the road. People wandered along the pavements quietly chatting.
As the time passed, a slow trail of mothers and buggies started to appear, heading towards the school. A few at first and then gradually increasing, followed by other parents on their own, moving towards the school gates. Further down the road, I noticed a long trail of secondary school children, presumably making their way home from school. As I headed back towards the primary school and the time neared 3.30 the mass of people on the streets increased, as did the vehicles on the road. I had just been cycling around these roads. Stopping in the middle to take photos. When I had arrived, this had been easy with very few cars on the road. Suddenly I was having to move in to let people past. Cars speeding over the speed humps seemingly in a rush for their appointment. Vans whizzing past too. This, I assumed, was the school pick up ‘rush hour’ around here.
As the children started to filter out of the school, the streets began to come alive with talking and movement. Children, mostly with parents, moved along the pavement, walking, skipping, scooting. These once silent roads were now filled with life and movement. But there was also now the need to be cautious crossing the road in case another parent, running late to pick up their child, decides to drive down it at speed. For a moment, there is chat, there is play, there is fun.
And then no sooner than it arrived, it’s gone. The noise and the people gradually disperse again. I hung around for a bit, thinking I might see some children come out to play or stay out for a bit once they’d reached their homes. But the movement was linear. Everyone was making a beeline to their homes and once there, it didn’t look like they were coming back out. The streets were quieter again now and dusk was starting to set in. The cars had gone too – no more speeding engines. Just quiet.
I went to look at the small park to see if anyone had decided to go there. No-one. Just quiet. It was a beautiful, clear, slightly frosty evening and it felt like everyone in this neighbourhood was missing it.