I guess we have known this was coming for quite some time, but suddenly, it seems, every bit of land is being built upon. Residential developments are mushrooming on every little space that can be found in the East End. Actually, no, they are not mushrooming. That sounds quite sweet and woodlandish. ( Wood anemones, startled fawn beside a crystal pool.) No, they are being built with scaffolding and demolition contractors and churned up earth and hard hats and a constant migraine of noise.
We know a little about some of these Tardis developments because of the Mayoral Planning Guidance on the allocation of space in new housing to allow for play. With so many dwellings being squashed into such small areas, architects and designers are looking for solutions that will create ‘playable space’ as well as fulfilling all the other briefs that they have.
Many of these developments are anticipating 300 or so children living in them.
How would you solve this dilemma?
Some designers are considering rooftop space for play, somewhere above the tenth floor. Some are turning over an entire level to playspace. Others are working on the standard doughnut model and having a well in the centre of the development which will serve as community and playspace.
Do we think that these new communities will open their arms to the playing of children in their precious common open spaces?
Do we think children will be able to be bold enough to claim the open areas for play?
Can we envisage these open spaces being an idyllic manifestation of the world-turned-upside-down vision of public places designed with the playing of children in mind? A rosy cheeked child friendly group of adults supporting them as they play around their brand new homes?
Parks designers and housing managers often describe their problems with playgrounds. The public petitioning against new or even re-furbishment of play areas. The houses near playspaces commanding the lowest property value. The deliberate sabotaging of play equipment by grumpy people. Battram’s Theory states that people who complain about children playing should be given ASBOs because play is a social behaviour and they are being anti-social.
I love the idea that all space should be available to children for play. And, though I believe we should keep plugging away at it, I think we have a long way to go before the change in mindset happens.
A child friendly common space is generally a good space for all the community.
Is there also a case to be made for dedicated playspaces? In the meantime, these new developments designs need to be informed by play literate people. One plan we saw for a high-rise roof-top play space showed trees around the perimeter walls.. ask your slef, a child seeing a tree in a permissive playground reads the placement of that obhject as a) a windbreak
b) a pollution filter
c) a visual asset
d) something to climb up and oh……….jump from.
The 300 or so children on these developments will need adults to advocate for their Right to Play. A group of people to be responsible for their playspace and time. Playworkers who will do what we traditionally did for a community in an Adventure Playground.
This is how play will be valued and understood on new developments. This is how to avoid densely populated ghettos where children are frightening or afraid.
Places that are definitely not playable. Where children lock themselves away and try to turn off from the play experiences that that are missing out on, by numbing themselves with screen playing.
Places that perpetuate the almost willfully ignorant attitude that blames children for withdrawing into a digitized experience when it is we as an adult society that have validated that form of playing above any other, because we recognise its commercial worth.
If you see planning application for large scale developments in your area, please get involved, and contact PATH so that we can keep tabs on what is going on.
For information about the Mayor of London’s Guidance on Planning please visit: