Designing for Play: Children in the Public Realm

The following post comes courtesy of Global Site Plans' The Grid. CNU and Global Site Plans recently teamed up to syndicate Grid content, as its contingent of writers present a view on the opportunities and issues of urbanization all across the world. CNU will carry select posts from the Grid direct on the CNU Salons.


Aldo van Eyck playground in Amsterdam post WWIIAmsterdam is one of those places I fell in love with before I ever visited. Architect Aldo van Eyck is the primary reason behind this. WWII left the city devastated with bomb-demolished buildings on many blocks, and the newly brandished professional’s first assignment was to begin designing neighborhood playgrounds – some in place of leveled buildings and others located centrally within neighborhoods.

His playgrounds embody design that is lauded by current childhood development specialists with elements that are abstract, textured, and pliable: engaging the senses and encouraging imagination. Such unstructured play is required for sustainable learning.

Rarely are attempts made to incorporate children into urban planning. When places are planned for children they are prescribed and often quarantined by fences. U.S. school and city playgrounds present one extreme of this situation, mainly caused by a culture of fear dictated by lawsuits. Safety supersedes play, imagination, exploration, and even learning at times.

As in the case of Amsterdam, European cities have, managed to embrace a more comprehensive place for children in the public realm, partially because of different approaches to safety regulations. Playgrounds like van Eyck’s have created pockets of exploration around nearly every corner of the city, specifically for children.

When I arrived to the city this summer, I was excited to see what was left of these abstract relics of playground history. Those that I found, and others that are similar, truly are a great aspect of the historical and modern design in the city, with some in urban neighborhoods and others integrated into the landscape design of city parks.

The problem exists that I’ve only ever seen children playing on these playgrounds once. Such a problem is reminiscent of those combated by Jane Jacob’s eyes of the street solution.

Adults playing exercise playground

As captured recently by a blogger at PPS, playgrounds are “staging areas of the cities of tomorrow.” They require some aspect of diversity and mix-use. Contemporary playgrounds should plan for a wide range of ages. Some parks have experimented with installing workout equipment along-side play equipment. Places that successfully attract adults and children make a space that is used more.

What elements and interactions on your childhood playground prepared you for civic life now?

To read the original post, written by Ellen Schwaller, visit Global Site Plans.


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