Category Archives: playground

A reminder of the significance of play in lockdown

It seems timely to share a post that child psychology academic Prof Helen Dodd and I wrote for The Conversation in March last year. With many schoolchildren at home once more, millions of parents across the UK are grappling with the added pressure of trying to home-school at the same time as holding everything else together.

“Free play can also help children make sense of things they find hard to understand.” Helen Dodd and Tim Gill

In one sense lockdown may be a little less daunting this time around, in part because of the hope offered by the vaccination programme. That said, many parents will be all too aware of the impact of school closures on their children’s education. They will be desperate to do whatever they can to keep their children from falling further behind.

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My new book ‘Urban Playground’: Sneak peek and seasonal discounted price

Urban Playground book coverI am delighted to share news that my forthcoming book Urban Playground: How child-friendly planning and design can save cities, is available to pre-order from the RIBA website here.

The book opens with an overview of urban planning and children, setting out why the topic matters. A working definition of child-friendly urban planning (familiar to readers of this blog) is set out in Chapter 2.

2 dimensions of child-friendly cities imageChapter 3 looks in detail at Rotterdam, the city that has arguably devoted more time, money and energy to the approach than any other, and whose investment is grounded in hard-nosed economic priorities.

The geographical scope is expanded in Chapter 4, with case studies and precedents from a dozen or so cities around the world, from post-Communist Tirana to post-industrial Antwerp, from tropical Recife to Nordic Oslo, from historic Ghent to high-tech Vancouver (also taking in my home city of London).

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A vibrant young city is building better neighbourhoods for early childhood. Can it sustain and broaden its impact?

It is not hard to see why early childhood should be a hot topic in Tel Aviv. The city has a booming cohort of young, aspirational parents, and recent unhappy memories of economic decline and falling populations. But why it should latch onto public space – rather than childcare – is less obvious.

The key to the story is a serendipitous, opportunistic partnership with the Bernard van Leer Foundation (BvLF). I have visited three of BvLF’s leading Urban95 cities now (the others being Tirana and Recife). My hunch is that the initiative has had a greater catalytic effect in Tel Aviv than in any of the other cities it has worked in. I visited the city at the end of February 2020 to find out more. Continue reading

Why one city is undergoing a child-friendly revolution

Why would a mayor decide that talking about children is the best way to fix a fast-growing, underfunded, polluted city whose people have a deep distrust for politicians? I spent a week in Tirana last month trying to answer this question.

The Tirana context
First, some context. Tirana, the capital of Albania, is a city of around 1/2 million people (double that figure if you include the wider region). Physically, the city has both Eastern Bloc and Southern European qualities. The city centre is spacious and ordered, taking in wide boulevards, grand squares and buildings, and pleasant parks and green spaces.

Skanderbeg Square, Tirana city centre

Skanderbeg Square, Tirana city centre

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Leading NGO calls for new thinking on play safety around the world

Playgrounds have for decades been shaped by a zero risk mindset, with, any injury seen as a sign of failure. But things are changing, in what the New York Times recently called a “movement for freer, riskier play.”

Playing it Safe? report coverI am proud to be a part of this movement. And this article introduces a new report [pdf link] on play and risk that I have written for the Bernard van Leer Foundation, the influential early childhood NGO, as part of its agenda-setting Urban95 initiative.

Entitled Playing it Safe? A global white paper on risk, liability and children’s play in public space, the report makes the case for a new approach, and calls for action by the key agencies involved in creating and maintaining play spaces, including city governments, NGOs, research institutions and safety and public health agencies.

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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

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