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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.

It starts with the 60 or so neighbourhoods that Antwerp’s 500,000+ inhabitants live in. These neighbourhoods are well-defined and well-understood by residents, officials and politicians alike. For children in particular, the neighbourhood is much more concrete than the city as a whole (as I saw in my conversation with a group of 11-year-olds in Kleine Muze school, located in a diverse, inner city area of the city).

Whiteboard showing children's views about their Antwerp neighbourhood

Children’s views about their Antwerp neighbourhood

Hence these neighbourhoods are also at the heart of city planning and service delivery, supported by a vast, user-friendly open databank and a skilled data analysis team.

The importance of this democratic municipal resource cannot be overstated: in Wim’s own words, it was a game-changer for the city’s approach. It means they can start by drawing up a kind of masterplan for the neighbourhood, including the parks, playgrounds, public spaces, sports facilities and schools, and also the cafés, shopping and other key features.

Play space web for one Antwerp neighbourhood

Play space web for one Antwerp neighbourhood

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