What is more dangerous, an adventure playground or a conventional playground?

In the cultural conversation about play and risk, adventure playgrounds – proper ones I mean, with timber structures, tools, junk materials and skilled workers – are very much on the radical side of the argument. But how dangerous are they, really?

One American school has conducted a natural experiment that helps to answer this question. And the results – set out in a report from the leading playwork group Pop-Up Adventure Play – cast doubt on standard approaches and thinking.

Parish school in Houston, Texas is a private school for children with a range of disabilities and conditions. It is highly unusual in that it has, on one site, two very different types of play space.

Parish School adventure playground. Photo: Alex Cote

Parish School adventure playground. Photo: Alex Cote

Continue reading

Last kindergarten in the woods?

[Note: I have added updates at the end of this post] Last month, as part of my Churchill Fellowship travels, I met Viola Zürcher, the leader of a German forest kindergarten (strictly speaking a waldkindergrippe or forest crèche, which takes children aged under three). Her setting runs five days a week in a wooded area on the edge of the city of Freiburg. Like other similar settings, it has a small, temporary hut building as an indoor base.

The visit was meant to be a brief social call, arranged by Freiburg residents and play advocates Peter Höfflin and Ellen Weaver (my tour-guides-cum-translators for the day). But the conversation took an unexpected turn.

Continue reading

The city that got serious about child-friendly urban planning

My last post on Antwerp showed how political priorities shape what is possible. That city’s ‘speelweefselplan’ or ‘play space web’ approach shone a light on how children get around their neighbourhoods. But in Antwerp, closing streets to traffic or losing parking spaces were steps too far for an administration fearful of being seen as ‘anti-car’.

So what happens when a city’s leadership faces up to the impact of traffic, and decides to do something serious about it? Ghent – Antwerp’s near neighbour and the second European city I visited on my Churchill Fellowship study tour last month – points to the answer. And the emerging results are impressive and revealing.

Continue reading

Antwerp’s Play Space Web: smart, child-friendly neighbourhood planning in action

When it comes to making Antwerp more playful and child-friendly, Wim Seghers is the man with a plan. His role is to develop the city’s playgrounds. But his award-winning approach is to start not with the play space, but with the neighbourhood beyond, making full use of Antwerp’s world-class data in the process.

Wim – my host for the first leg of my European study tour of child-friendly urban planning – explained to me last week how his city’s ‘play space web’ (‘speelweefselplan’ in Dutch) approach works.

Continue reading

Studying child-friendly cities, Northern European style

This post shares news of the second and final leg of my Churchill Fellowship study tour, which starts on Monday 26 Feb. In the following four weeks the tour will take me to Antwerp, Ghent, Rotterdam, Oslo and Freiburg (dates below).

Along the way I will meet decision-makers, municipality officials and partner agencies to find out more about each city’s efforts to make their streets, parks and public spaces more child-friendly, and to make it easier for children to travel around their neighbourhoods and the city beyond.

I also plan to gain some insights into children’s own experiences of the neighbourhoods where they live and play.

Playful public space, Vauban, Freiburg

Playful public space, Vauban, Freiburg

Continue reading

Snow 1, Snapchat 0 – and why this result matters

Last Sunday it snowed round our way. For the first time in years my neighbourhood – like much of London, the South East and beyond – woke up to a blanket of fresh, snowball-perfect snow. And guess what: children went outside and played. They sledged. They made snowmen and snow angels. They had snowball fights.

Snowman

To repeat: children went outside and played.

Continue reading

New Arup report places children at the heart of urban planning

Cover of Cities Alive: Designing for Urban ChildhoodsA new report from planning and built environment firm Arup argues that children should be central to good urban planning and design around the world.

Cities Alive: Designing for Urban Childhoods takes its cue from the oft-quoted maxim of Bogotá mayor Enrique Peñalosa that the child is an indicator species for cities. Part of Arup’s Cities Alive series of publications, it shows that child-friendly urban planning is about much more than providing playgrounds. Rather, it is part and parcel of making cities more livable, sustainable and successful for all citizens. Continue reading