Designing the City for Play: Safe, Everyday Places for Children

Isaac Williams, College Park, MD
Catherine Stratton Treadway, College Park, MD

The pace of life today does not often allow parents to play outdoors with their children, and many parents fear allowing their children to play outside unattended. In addition, many communities struggle to provide the resources to build and manage purpose-built playgrounds. Whether in the suburbs or larger cities, it is not hard to find an under-utilized playground.

However, there is little question that play is important to the physical, intellectual, and social development of children. Therefore the question of everyday access to safe, stimulating, and social places to play is vital to sustaining healthy urban communities.

An investigation of recent literature and careful observation of children at play asks the questions: Where do children really play in the city? How can the city be made more safe and appropriate for play?

The authors find that many families play at purpose-built playgrounds as many adults exercise at the gym – as a planned, scheduled and supervised activity. The same-ness of much off-the shelf equipment contributes to an experience that often lacks variety and spontaneity. The authors observe that children do play on the street-front and in public places throughout the city; this play seems rich and varied despite the lack of purpose-built equipment. Building on design elements observed in “street-front play” over the course of this research, the authors will propose a set of guidelines and make recommendations for designing safe, appropriate, cost-conscious, everyday spaces for play that support the intellectual and physical development of children.

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