'Cities for Play' is a project whose main objective is to inspire architects and urban planners to create stimulating, respectful, and accessible cities for children.
Natalia Krysiak, its creator, is an Australian architect who believes that children's needs should be placed at the center of urban design to ensure resilient and sustainable communities. In 2017, she produced 'Cities for Play,' studying examples of cities that are concerned with providing environments that are capable of promoting the health and well-being – physical and emotional – of children through a focus on play and "active mobility” in public spaces.
'In my career as an architect, I have always been fascinated by how the design of cities and neighbourhoods can affect the day to day lives of children. This comes from the fact that as a child, my parents travelled a lot, giving me the opportunity to experience many different neighbourhoods and homes. (...) Every new environment had a big impact on my childhood – either constraining or enabling opportunities to safely play outdoors, walk to school, and socialise with other neighbourhood children. These were important elements of my childhood, enabling the development of skills such as independence, social skills, creativity, empathy, and instilling a sense of belonging to a community. (...) The experiences and exposure to various cities that I had as a child has led me to believe that along with good social policy, the built environment can have a profound effect on the health, wellbeing, and happiness of our youngest citizens and far more attention should be paid on how this can be done.' (Natalia Krysiak)
With the support of the Churchill Fellowship, Natalia Krysiak visited nine cities in the world and shared the greatest lessons from each of them on building "child-friendly" cities. The cities are: Singapore, Hong Kong, Tokyo, London, Antwerp, Rotterdam, Amsterdam, Toronto, and Vancouver. You can check out her impressions about the first five on her blog.
'If I could transport all the children in the world to a single city, I would transport them to a city that considers the everyday lived experiences of children as a vital component of a thriving and successful society. One which aims to provide children with the richness of outdoor play, social interaction, and a sense of belonging to their communities as a right of every child.' (Natalia Krysiak)
To strengthen her writing on the topic, Natalia participates in several events that study the insertion of children on an urban scale. Regarding these events, we asked her to talk about the behind-the-scenes of this discussion:
'From a built environment perspective, one of the greatest barriers that has contributed to the decline of children’s neighbourhood play is increasing car traffic coupled with the reduced number of informal spaces for play within neighbourhoods. The dominance of cars within our neighbourhoods has had a particularly demobilizing effect on children’s active mobility; reducing their opportunities to safely play, socialize, and access their communities independently. Spaces that have been traditionally used by children for play such as streets, driveways, or empty pockets of land are diminishing due to the increasing traffic, parking requirements and higher land values. As our cities continue to densify and open space becomes more and more valuable, it is vital that the priority of children’s outdoor play and active mobility is embedded in planning policy to ensure that every child has the freedom to play on their doorstep and walk or cycle to school. There are a handful of examples where cities have taken this responsibility very seriously.' (Natalia Krysiak)
The London Example
In this interview, Natalia told us that the city of London, for example, has a planning policy that requires new residential developments (of 20 units or more) to provide 10 square metres per child of open space, based on the expected number of children who will live in the development (Shaping Neighbourhoods: Children and Young People's Play and Informal Recreation, City of London, 2011).
For her (and for us), policies like this are necessary to safeguard the playing space in our fast-growing cities and to ensure that children's right to play freely is prioritized.
Natalia's investigative saga culminated in two incredible publications that became references on the subject. They are: "Designing Child-Friendly High-Density Neighbourhoods – Transforming our cities for the health, wellbeing, and happiness of children" (2019) and "Where do the Children Play? Designing Child – Friendly Compact Cities" (2018). Get to know them a little better below:
The book is divided into three parts: introduction, design strategies, and conclusion. In addition to providing useful tools for the design of compact and respectful public spaces for children, this publication is really interesting because it provides an overview of the city-child relationship, as well as presenting its benefits to all parties: community, child, and caregivers.
- Embedding children's needs into cities
- A changing urban fabric and the rise of vertical families
- Why focus on children's play and independent mobility?
- How can we design more child-friendly cities?
- Facilitate play throughout all public space
- Connect schools to public spaces
- Play for high-density homes
- Plan safe routes
- Case studies
- Summary and recommendations
Designing Child-Friendly High-Density Neighbourhoods
Transforming our cities for the health, wellbeing, and happiness of children
This 116-page publication is a final report with case studies of the cities visited by the initiative in partnership with the Churchill Fellowship. The report explores the types of interventions and policies that these cities are implementing with the aim of improving the quality of life for children and their families in urban environments. In these 116 pages, the document is organized into five distinct parts: context, intervention projects (case studies that show design interventions in the physical environment that encourage children's daily freedom to play, socialize, belong, and become connected to the natural and built environment), programmed interventions (case studies that show interventions programmed in the physical environment to stimulate children's mobility, play, socialization, and active agency), political context, recommendations, and conclusions.
- A Childhood Story
- Why is it important?
- Interviewed individuals and organizations
- Report structure
- Neighborhood scale
- Building scale
Finally, we asked Natalia to leave a message for the architects interested in this topic:
'When we think back to some of the fondest memories from our childhood, these are often ones which we spent playing outdoors; climbing trees, splashing in puddles, and walking with friends to school. These experiences are not trivial but in fact vital components of children’s development; promoting physical and mental health as well as emotional wellbeing. I believe that it is our responsibility as architects and planners to ensure that the design of neighbourhoods considers the lived experiences of our youngest citizens by prioritizing children’s opportunities to freely play outdoors, walk independently, and feel a sense of belonging and ownership within their communities. Imagine if every developer was asked a simple question before submitting a development application – Where will the children play? How different could our cities be?' (Natalia Krysiak)
You can access these publications for free and get more information about this incredible project by clicking here.