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All children have a biological need and a legal right to play, protected in Article 31 of the UN Convention on Children's Rights.

33% of the world’s population are children,(1) and 54% live in urban areas. This is predicted to rise to 84% by 2050.(2) Cities are under considerable pressure to cater for a broad range of ages and requirements, and have a responsibility to provide for the continued growth and development of the future generation.


An essential requirement for children is the ability to play.



‘Children value playing in a broad range of places, and it is important to recognise that these can be staffed or unstaffed, formal or informal, and natural or man-made. However the places children value most outside of the home are not formally recognised as spaces for play, but instead are the streets where they live.’(3)

The street was the first ‘playground’, however street safety has been a primary factor in the decline of free play for children within their neighbourhoods. Play provision in cities generally consists of static playgrounds, an inadequate response to the needs of urban children, suggesting that play should only occur in isolated locations and that play has a beginning and end. Play is in fact constant, and these ‘destination’ play spaces should be supported by a network of accessible neighbourhood streets between the playground and the home. . Cities should not be designed exclusively for children, but it is crucial for these urban landscapes to become child-friendly, to allow safe exploration through the neighbourhood in immediate proximity to the home. 



Children will use the environment in completely unpredictable ways, and are particularly intrigued by loose materiality and parts which can be reconfigured and manipulated through play.

‘What has happened is that adults in the form of professional artists, architects, landscape architects, and planners have had all the fun playing with their own materials, concepts and planning alternatives, and then builders have had all the fun building the environments out of real materials; and thus has all the fun and creativity has been stolen: children and adults and the community have been grossly cheated and the educational-cultural system makes sure that they hold the belief that this is right.’(4)


The theory of ‘loose parts’ in play is discussed by architect Simon Nicholson who believed that it is the ‘looseness’ of a space that invites the most imagination and creativity. Traditional playgrounds deprive children of this capacity to be involved in the production of their domain.




‘If the modernist imperative was to make play environments ‘imaginative’, it followed that the ‘imagination’ at play, should be that of the child, not of the architect.’ (5)


To truly engage children in a space, the designer should allow scope for invention and self-building. The loose parts of an environment will promote constant play - furthermore, the type of play that can be constructed, destructed and reinvented infinitely. This will ensure a resilient and flexible play space that can be adapted as the child develops. This participation can be an empowering process by enlisting children to take responsibility for how they want to shape their city. This responsibility can also be obtained more informally through a child’s interaction with existing play space and their ability to physically adapt the surrounding context. 

Participation through play is a powerful tool for citizenship. A city’s survival relies on the cultivation of a generation of children who feel a sense of belonging in their city. Appropriate urban environments have the ability to initiate selfhood for a child - an intrinsic identity that will cultivate a proactive city dweller. 







3    Mike Barclay, Wrexham Play Sufficiency Study

4   Simon Nicholson, How Not to Cheat Children: The Theory of Loose Parts

5    Roy Kozlovsky, The Architectures of Childhood

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