Three individuals, from various professional backgrounds, and from different parts of the globe, give answers to our question of the week.
Michael Mehaffy is Executive Director of Portland, Ore. based Sustasis Foundation, developing neighbourhood-scale tools based on work of the architect Christopher Alexander and the urbanist Jane Jacobs, as well as related research and development:
I know that efforts are being made to provide play spaces in many urban areas. For example, the work in Vancouver’s Yaletown neighborhood is notable, and I know that Larry Beasley and the other planners there have been conscious of this need. So I don’t think you could say they’re neglecting that need.
I think a bigger problem is when “play spaces for kids” are conceived as one-off elements, or boxes to check, instead of part of a wider way of thinking about cities. Too often they’re rather miserable little spaces where kids have to be marched in and marched out, and in the interim they have rather lifeless, garishly coloured “safety equipment” to play on.
A different way of thinking of cities is as continuous urban fabric that is safe and interesting for kids. Chris Alexander and his colleagues wrote about “Children in the City” — a pattern within their widely influential “pattern language” — as a way of making cities generally safer for children to explore and play on. (Much as another pattern, “Old People Everywhere,” was a way of making cities accessible for all ages including the elderly.) Jane Jacobs made the same point about sidewalks being made safe for children. Alexander et al. further described “Adventure Playgrounds” as informal play spaces, allowing children to explore and to make things – very far from the regimented playgrounds that are so common.
This is a way of thinking about urbanism as a continuous evolving fabric, but with the home close enough to the street that parents can keep an eye on kids. In this view it’s not enough to provide tokenistic playrooms within tall buildings, or to have a few dollops of playground in an otherwise miserable streetscape. Instead, the city is a continuous, diverse, walkable fabric, with a network of quieter areas suitable for kids.
Mathematics Professor Nikos Salingaros, the author of several innovative books on Architecture and Cities, has contributed to a new theory of design and urbanism, continuing the ground-breaking work of his friend Christopher Alexander:
Most definitely yes! Modernist planners simply don’t put any care into designating space for children. Outdoor playgrounds designed by architects, on the other hand, tend to impose hard, inhuman forms and spaces. No child feels comfortable there. The sprawling suburban house was thought to provide space for play in the dismal basement “playroom” and in a fenced backyard. But that ignores the need for socialization, which can only occur among peers within a common public space. The wide suburban street doesn’t work: it turns potentially deadly whenever a pickup truck comes speeding by. The shopping mall’s over-regulated private environment offers an extremely poor substitute space for children’s play. Thus, wealthy societies lack what many slum dwellers possess: open space where children can run free, tangential to car traffic, with trees and bushes (not insipid front lawn) to play in and around, and where nobody tells them what to do.
So what do you think?
Are play spaces for kids being neglected in the urban lifestyle?