Recently I’ve been binging on some urban design channels – mostly talking about the best way to structure and arrange a populous settlement. Today I attended a Zoom talk on that topic – the heraldry stuff for this year appearing to have run out.
I had expected today’s session to be on similar themes – housing density, cycle paths, zoning etc – but instead it was mainly focused on children’s play areas. It was hosted by Timberplay, with guest speakers Lucy Wallwork and Laura Scott-Simmons.
The consensus was a need to move away from “KFC” playgrounds (Kit, Fencing and Carpet, not Kentucky-Fried Chicken) and towards more varied, naturalistic settings. Much of the aim was to design urban environments in a child-friendly way, so that children could access communal spaces without needing to be driven around in parents’ cars (or, for that matter, being endangered by other cars passing nearby).
Another theme in the talk was the decline of high streets due to the rise of online shopping – exacerbated by the pandemic, of course. It was recommended that city centres cater to more than just retail, with outlets for religion, leisure, culture and even rewilding. It was important to avoid “clone cities” which are indistinguishable from their neighbours, and create a unique feature for each town to attract tourism.
The talk ran on for a little longer than I had expected but there was still time at the end for questions. One asked if the measures for “children” also applied to adolescents, and the speakers acknowledged that teens were often “designed out” of public spaces because of negative perceptions. (The popular industry phrase quoted earlier was “too old for the playground, too broke for the café, too young for the pub”.)
I, living most of my life in remote countryside and noticing how many of these projects had “urban” or “city” in the title, asked if the same principles of design also worked for smaller and more rural settlements. The speakers said that the basic rules still applied, and that there was sometimes a “play deficit” in rural areas because it is often assumed that people there have easy access to nature whereas really much of it is closed-off agricultural land.
Most of these were mentioned in the presentations, and it’s easier just to list the links instead of copying them out.
- Lucy Wallwork
- Laura Scott-Simmons
- Should playgrounds be more risky?
- New Playgrounds Are Safe – and That’s Why Nobody Uses Them.
- Play with(out) grounds
- Crucial indicator for a successful, healthy city: children
- Why cities are letting down children
- The Portas review: the future of our high streets