CHILDREN playing in the street and neighbours chatting on doorsteps is an old-fashioned notion set for a rebirth in one lucky Chester neighbourhood.
Residents living near the railway station are taking part in a national experiment by designing a £500,000 'make-over' for their community.
Cheshire's first Home Zone involves the use of innovative street lay-outs and green spaces to reclaim the streets for pedestrians, by relegating the motor car to the back seat.
The scheme is part of the Government's £30m Home Zones Challenge which will see 60 neighbourhoods transformed across the country following the success of similar schemes in Holland and Denmark.
Cheshire County Council, in partnership with the city council, is leading the Chester project which will encompass the community bounded by Brook Street, the Inner ring road, City Road and Station Road.
Phase one focuses on Egerton Street, Crewe Street and Francis Street - an area of high-density housing with limited open spaces and greenery which has suffered from rat-running.
Residents themselves have come up with ideas to meet their particular challenges. And an exhibition will take place today and tomorrow for locals to give their views on the proposals.
Pat Jones, chairwoman of Francis Street Residents' Association, said: 'I personally think it will be great. At the moment we have terrible problems with parking and traffic coming through. We are right in the city.
'There will be a 20mph limit and where you go from Crewe Street, from the park and Francis Street, it will be closed off so you can't bomb straight through. We have a lot of problems with drugs in the area. They drop them off by the school and the park and Peel Terrace and so it won't be as quick a run for them.'
She added: 'We went to see a Home Zone in Manchester and spoke to the residents there. They said it had improved their lives. They didn't have the rat runs like they used to have. Hopefully it will do the same for us.
'They said they couldn't let their children play out before and now they don't worry. That in itself is an improvement.'
Mrs Jones said eventually the Chester City Transport depot would relocate from the area taking several bus journeys out of their streets. In addition, there were plans to redevelop in front of the railway station and to have a tree-lined avenue in City Road.
Richard Nickson of Cheshire County Council highways department explained more about the concept.
He said: 'The best analogy is it's like pedestrianisation but without removing the cars because in a residential area it's very difficult. People live there, so if they live there, they need cars.
'It's an idea that dates back to the 60s and 70s and comes from Denmark, Holland and Germany. The literal translation of the term they used is 'living yard'.'
Mr Nickson explained why simply installing road humps in a traditional style scheme was of limited benefit.
He said: 'You can still see the end of the road and people tend to drive at a speed according to how much of the road they can see.
'If you change the visibility so that instead of having a clear run of 50 or 60 metres you only have 10-15 metres without something else breaking up that visibility, then you cannot drive that quickly because you can't see if it's safe to drive any faster than perhaps 10mph.
'It's a bit like if you drive down a street with cars parked on either side, you will go slower in case anyone should step out. Psychologically, we need to get people to slow down rather than force them to go slower.'
Mr Nickson said traffic could increase isolation, particularly for the elderly and children, and it was hoped Home Zones would see more people outside their homes, with adults chatting on doorsteps and youngsters playing football in the street.
There is evidence that people who are more socially active are less likely to suffer illness, plus antisocial behaviour and crime is less likely to flourish in an environment where people are looking out for each other.
'Chester is participating in a large scale experiment,' said Mr Nickson, who added: 'It's quite radical in terms of what we are used to seeing.'