A growing number of initiatives are integrating children’s needs into urban planning, promoting quality play outside of parks and schools.
Incorporating play into public spaces generates interesting returns to the environment, economy, safety and health of a neighbourhood.
More than half of the world’s population now lives in urban environments, and this trend will increase in the coming decades. According to the UN-Habitat programme, 60% of the inhabitants of these cities will be under the age of 18 by 2030, so designing child-friendly cities is becoming a particularly crucial challenge for everyone’s future. And today, this challenge is already being addressed by numerous initiatives around the world.
According to statistics, children today spend less time playing than previous generations, outdoor play has been reduced, along with opportunities for social interaction in the street, and at the same time, sedentary lifestyles, stress and the abuse of technology as the only means of entertainment define the daily routines of young people. On the other hand, safety risks in public spaces, traffic and pollution are factors that discourage parents from giving their children more autonomy in the urban environment.
The importance of play in cities
In order to mitigate this trend, several proposals have been developed with the goal of designing urban interventions that introduce play into the places and situations where children carry out their activities on a daily basis. This ranges from the library to the bus stop, the hairdresser’s, supermarket, car park or on the way to school.
Children can improve their cognitive, emotional, social, and physical skills through play, even when they are not in school. This is how Playful Learning Landscapes (PLL), an initiative with several pilot projects in cities in the United States, such as Urban Thinkscape in Philadelphia, a vacant lot next to a bus stop that has been transformed into a place for play that includes, among other amusements, a three-dimensional hopscotch and several vertical puzzles that have become part of the street furniture.