There is a new development near me where a playground has been stuck on the end, in an enclosed space, away from line of sight and busy thoroughfares. Seemingly an afterthought. It is no wonder I never see anyone using it and this makes me angry every time I see it. I can’t help but thinking “BOOORING” (think Villanelle in Killing Eve) and “what a waste of space!”
Last year, Tanvi Misra from CityLab, stated that “the modern playground has become mind-numbingly standard issue”. I couldn’t agree more.
Part of the problem is that in planning policy terms, we take a very segmented view of play space and open space. We have so many classifications – Local Areas for Play (LAPs), Local Equipped Area for Play (LEAPs), Neighbourhood Equipped Area for Play (NEAPs), Amenity Green Space, Parks and Gardens, Natural Green Space, Green Corridors – and the list goes on. Each seemingly has a separate “function” but in reality, it all boils down to social and ecological benefits that have a huge amount of crossover. When we are drawing up a plan that identifies a green corridor next to a natural green space, the line is arbitrary, and the classification won’t be obvious to the people who end up using this space.
What isn’t talked about (in policy or development management terms) is whether a ‘higher order open space’ (e.g. a higher quality park or natural space) can perform the function of a ‘lower order open space’ (e.g. amenity green space) and therefore negate the need for the quantity of lower order space from a development, enabling more room for housing or infrastructure.
Don’t get me wrong, I am not suggesting we go without these spaces. However, in a world where we are trying to maximise housing delivery and minimise land up-take, and generally balancing a number of competing needs on development sites, we need to reconsider how these spaces work; how they can be better integrated into developments; and how we can better plan for these spaces. We need to be talking about the quality of open space and play space proposed, not just the numbers. We need to be talking about accessibility of existing open spaces and how to improve these areas to ensure that more people are able to use and enjoy them.
We should be integrating play space into other types of open space, bringing back natural play and removing the bog-standard and boring plastic playground. Why can’t we be creating adventure playgrounds that meander through open spaces, places where children can have fun, be challenged and learn? Let’s create high-quality open space that people value and can provide significant amenity, recreation and ecological benefits. We should also be looking at where play and recreation can occur where we don’t normally see these things – let’s allow for play in streets or climbing walls in libraries. Let’s think outside the sand box!