The research identifies the need for supervised spaces near the home as well as the ability for older children to move about safely and independently across a ‘network of interconnected spaces around the development’.
Dinah Borat of ZCD Architects has published a summary of research into the sociability of streets and public spaces in housing design in the Architects Journal. This offers findings from studies of six 20th Century Estates in Hackney and a further 10 recent schemes across England. The study recorded activity in the streets and public spaces of housing developments over twenty-four hours over two days. This used Jan Gehl’s categories of activity; necessary, optional and social – also recording the gender and age of people and the numbers talking or playing together at any time.
The research identifies how the streets and public spaces provided, function in terms of their accessibility and describes their success in supporting activity to understand how well ‘social activity, children’s independent activity and their extended use of space’ is supported. The research demonstrates the need for supervised spaces near the home as well as the ability for older children to move about safely and independently across a ‘network of interconnected spaces around the development’. Which is evidence for my more empirical observations in an earlier blog ‘Playing Out’.
The research found play to be the dominant outdoor activity and discovered that when there was room for this other activities followed with more sociability occurring between adults as well. The full report will probably tell us more – but the plan diagrams (see above) recording accessibility seem to suggest that the position of the street or space in the layout is important as well as the types of street and range of spatial types used – with developments that are more generic supporting less social opportunity.
The Architects Journal; Designing Green Spaces that people want to use, Dinah Borat – AJ 21.04.16 VOL 243/ISSUE 10
The 400 meter radius circle that connotes pedestrian accessibility gathers significance if you have a small baby in a pushchair and no access to a car or if you are walking small children to school. You start to appreciate the scale of a neighbourhood very vividly. If in your radius as well as a nursery and school there is a small shop and better still a café and maybe a park or somewhere to sit out then there will be room for parents and babies and small children to congregate. This is where communities which span decades start to take shape and designers should think of these spaces in sequence with one another.
As children become mobile then play spaces become a fixation, plays spaces and swimming pools (and later forests or woods). The scale of neighbourhood activity grows as children do. If your children are happily amused you know they are spending their time well then the chances are you’ll be amused too. A recent review of the evidence of the benefits of free play reported that playing has a wide range of benefits for children including; cognitive development, physical health and emotional wellbeing, social development and resilience. The availability of play space points to wider benefits for families also: ‘Parents associate playing in playgrounds with family well-being, and those who live near playgrounds and visit often report higher levels of family well-being’(1).
From around five to ten years of age children want assert their independence and play out with friends somewhere near to their homes. For a few months the boundaries of home are stretched into the street and there are difficult decisions to be negotiated. It is helpful initially if there is space apart that is still near enough to be supervised. So designers need to consider how to provide a range of incidental play spaces as part of the landscape of any new neighbourhood, such as well functioning home zones and slivers or margins of spaces that can be safely purloined. The Playing Out campaign grew out of a resident led project in Bristol that aims to encourage and support street play across the UK and enable every child the freedom to; ‘play actively and independently in front of or near their own home’ (2). Playing Out is also supported by Play England.
On foot links to bigger and wilder spaces are important for children as they gain independence. By ten they may want to go further afield to play or go on an errand to the shops to experience the wider world for themselves. Even better a day out in the woods with backpacks. A study for Save the Children found that children enjoyed spaces that might not be considered by design teams: “The ‘wild’ areas, which included the fields, woods, ruins and the local bing (an old coal slag heap), were highly valued by the young people and were places where they went climbing trees, biking and to generally socialise and play”(3).
Finding opportunities for these three scales of activity for parents and children: of the street, the neighbourhood and connection to wild spaces beyond is a good test of a residential or mixed-use masterplan. It is another way of asking the Building for Life question two: “Does the development provide (or is it close to) community facilities, such as shops, schools, workplaces, parks, play areas, pubs or cafés?”
The Play Return: A review of the wider impact of play initiatives, Tim Gill for the Children’s Play Policy Forum, 2014 – www.rethinkingchildhood.com