Hide And Seek (Paris, 2009) Photographer: Sofia Verzbolovskis (@sofiaverz)
Public space can be perceived in several ways, and it constantly evolves. It changes over time and it adjusts to the requirements of society. Nowadays, however, our cities seem to have forgotten that children need space to develop socially and to put their creativity and senses to the test.
Before cities were invaded by automobiles, children would take over the streets and play. They would run down alleyways and around corners playing hide and seek, sprinting about, soiling their clothes. Over time, sand and water have been replaced by barriers to fence children into a colourful, artificial playground, so they can play safely.
The first of these models appeared in New York in the 1930s under the direction of Robert Moses. He punctuated the city with hundreds of playgrounds – spaces that fostered safety in the play area and provided some preset playing activities.
At the same time, in Amsterdam, Jakoba Mulder – the architect for the Department of Urban Planning – made a proposal for Aldo Van Eyck to incorporate a sandbox in each of the 714 playgrounds1 that would be built around the city, bombed during the war. Playgrounds would facilitate group relations, promote spontaneity and could be completely appropriated by children. This would fulfil the most ambitious vision of the project – turning the whole city into a play area.2
Two different contexts, two different locations. Different ways of playing. So why do thousands of our cities share the same playground design as 1930s New York? Why are such designs overly restrictive? Why is this false idea of security so predominant? And why do these models seem unable to meet current needs for play?
Play is a tool for social integration and for the transformation of public space. It is creativity and innovation. It is freedom. Cities, however, only offer few areas dedicated to play – when they do not lack them altogether. Furthermore, the absence of greens spaces in our environments results in a serious “nature deficit” for city-dwelling children.3
It should also be noted that, in this day and age, mass media and entertainment programmes have altered children’s habits and activities. Dolores Victoria Ruiz discussed this in a post called “Teaching observation in the age of the eye”, available on this blog: “For children living in industrialised countries, cities are scenes they intuit out of the corners of their eyes as they play with their parents’ cell phones, watch a DVD in the car, or enjoy their own iPads on the bus.”
In spite of all the design flaws that playgrounds have in our cities, children are still able to surprise us by appropriating areas that are not specifically intended for them. And, by doing that, they rediscover the city. If children are not free to roam, cities are nothing but a malevolent paradox.
Children rediscover their identity against all the odds, harmed and wreaking harm in continuous peril, under incisive rays of sunshine. Relegated to the periphery of our attention, children endure as an emotional, unproductive quantum of emotion. When snow nestles the city under its mantle, children become the lords, if only for an instant.4
Is your city rediscovering children?
Text translated by Beth Gelb
Notas de página
LEFAIVRE, L. / TZONIS, A. (1999) Aldo van Eyck Humanist Rebel. In betweening in a Postwar World, 010 Publishers, Rotterdam.
STUTZIN, N. “Políticas del playground: los espacios de juego de Robert Moses y Aldo van Eyck” in Ediciones ARQ, Diciembre 2015.
Nature Deficit Syndrome, developed into a Doctoral Thesis in Territorial Processes by LUGO, E. (2013) Derechos de los niños y espacios jugables, 5th UNICEF Prize
LIGTELIJN, V. (1967) Aldo Van Eyck. Collected articles and other writings: 1947-1998. The Child, the City and the Artist, SUN Publishers, Amsterdam
Arquitecta por la ETSAS (2017). Su proyecto final de carrera Paisajes Domésticos: sobre la arquitectura, lo social y el juego ha sido seleccionado en la Bienal de Venecia 2018. Creatividad, ganas e ilusión por mejorar cada día son características que la definen. Actualmente estudia el Máster de Diseño de Instalaciones en Arquitectura y Eficiencia Energética.
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