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).
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.