Category Archives: Urbanism

Urban design, architecture, planning

How street play can help save cities from the car

I am pleased to share a revealing, insightful and inspiring story from my home city. Clare Rogers wanted to make her streets safer for her kids. This goal led her first to organising Playing Out sessions in her own street in North London, then to becoming an advocate for walking, cycling and more child-friendly neighbourhoods.

Clare’s enthusiasm for play street sessions, with their potential to offer a more attractive vision of what residential streets can offer, fits with my own research into the power of the model. But it is her messages for campaigners that resonate most strongly.

Car dominance is a real problem for city-dwellers everywhere, and especially for urban children. But it will not be solved by pitting motorists against cyclists.  Instead, we need to shift the focus to building a shared vision for urban neighbourhoods and cities as a whole.

Talking about children helps make this shift. Enrique Peñalosa – recently re-elected mayor of Bogotá – is famous for his maxim (which Clare also highlights) that children are an indicator species for children: if they work for kids, they work for everyone. The converse is also true: cities that do not work for children are not working for anyone.

Sun web page screengrab London smog alert children kept inside.

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Making the case for more playful and child-friendly places

It is obvious that children’s play experiences and everyday freedoms are hugely shaped by the places where they live. So anyone who cares about these issues should also be concerned about the qualities of neighbourhoods, towns and cities, and about how they are planned, designed and built.

Child playing on pavement in residential area of Delft

Human habitats are changing fast. In particular, cities are growing and changing faster than ever before – and more and more children are growing up in cities. How should play advocates, and advocates for more child-friendly places, respond to these changes? This post tries to answer that question.

The post brings together some key strands of my thinking over the years on child-friendliness, outcomes and advocacy. It is a very lightly edited version of my response to a discussion on play and the environment that was initiated by the International Play Association (IPA), of which I am a member. You can find the IPA discussion paper here. Continue reading

10 Ways to Build a City for Children • This City Life

A snappy ten-point checklist for a child-friendly city has been pulled together by Vancouver urbanist and writer Jillian Glover. I confess I am cautious about the ‘top tips’ style of writing, which can lead to oversimplification. But this ticked a lot of my boxes.

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Talks and workshops in Canada next month

I am excited to announce that in three weeks I will be embarking on a coast-to-coast speaking and workshop tour of Canada. It will take in BC (Vancouver and Victoria), Alberta (Lethbridge and Calgary), Ontario (Niagara and Toronto) and Halifax, Nova Scotia. There is a near-final itinerary near the end of this post.

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First ever area-wide evaluation of street play proves its potential

Street play initiatives can make a real difference to the lives of thousands of children and families across an urban area. This was the key message of the first ever area-wide study of a street play programme, which I carried out for Hackney Council. My evaluation – launched by the London Borough last Friday – also revealed that schemes have caused minimal levels of traffic disruption, and have faced very little local opposition.

Hackney play streets report cover Continue reading

Playful urban spaces: a lesson from Bilbao

I was in Bilbao a few weekends ago and spent several evenings in Plaza Nueva, a square in the old town and a popular weekend meeting place for local people. While grown-ups enjoyed drinks and tapas (or to use the Basque term, pintxos) in bars under the elegant colonnades, the central area was humming with children playing. Ball games, scooter races, chalk-picture-drawing, heely tricks (remember Heelys?) and chit-chat were just some of what was in the mix.

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Could this be the most play-literate PR video ever?

A couple of weeks ago the UK laundry brand Persil (known in many parts of the world as Omo) released a set of short videos called ‘Kids Today’. The aim is to give parents insights into the intrinsic value of play, using ‘point of view’ cameras to bring the viewer closer to the world as seen through children’s eyes. Here is the first, entitled ‘Play Face’.

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