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Public space lessons

Designing and planning for play

A new era of design thinking is encouraging more creativity in the design of play
environments. With a boost of £235m of government investment, local authorities
can make the most of this opportunity by drawing on best practice and providing
imaginative, more natural play spaces that meet the needs of the wider community

‘The investment is down deliver the best facilities possible, seriously in 2004 with its Every
capitalising on growing trends such Child Matters agenda, and a review
to wider government as natural play and play beyond the in the same year by the Department
policy. It is a response playground. for Culture, Media and Sport
to concerns about the (DCMS) showed how £155m of
This latest move began in December Big Lottery money could be spent
quality of childhood’ 2007, when the secretary of state ‘to improve more children’s lives
for children, schools and families, through play’. Some of that cash is
Ed Balls, announced a 10-year funding Play England for five years
A new agenda for play children’s plan. As part of this, and going towards funding play
£235m is to be made available workers and facilities.
Play is a very serious business for for the upgrading of 3,500
young people. It’s intrinsic to a existing playgrounds, and 30 local There are other opportunities,
healthy childhood. High-quality play authorities will each receive around especially in improving the play
provision offers a route to fitness £2m to build new, supervised value of school grounds or through
that is fun. For families, it offers adventure playgrounds — play areas, investment programmes in under-
a safe location for meeting with both indoor and outdoor, that are fives and primary provision. Building
friends. Perhaps most of all, well- open access and staffed by qualified Schools for the Future, the £45bn
designed play space helps make play workers. Earlier this year, when government programme that will
young people happy in, and with, the government launched its national rebuild or refurbish every one of
their local neighbourhoods. play strategy, Fair Play, it selected England’s 3,500 state secondary
20 pathfinders and 43 ‘playbuilders’ schools, recognises the value
Now, new government funding to be the first local authorities to of school grounds in improving
means that local authorities have receive a share of the £235m. learning environments.
a unique chance to transform the
quality of their play spaces. Over But this was not the first stage For one play expert, Tim Gill,
the next three years, the government in a UK-wide recognition of the the next few years represent an
will invest more money than ever importance of play. The government opportunity to transform the quality
before in children’s play. Councils had already shown that it was taking of play spaces across the UK. ‘The
need to grasp this opportunity to the issue of children’s play amount of real money going into
play is really remarkable, almost
helle nebelong

from a standing start’. Gill believes

the investment is down to wider
government policy; it is ‘a response
to concerns about the quality of
childhood and broad anxiety over
the quality of children’s lives such
as obesity’.

Play spaces need to be integrated

into the wider public realm and
are not the preserve of just one
profession. Depending on the local
context, planners, park managers
and transport professionals, as
well as play workers, may need
to be involved in decisions about
With play design, creativity should be encouraged, enhanced by an understanding of the history of the site future play provision. Following the
Case study 1 a climbing rock there, and a swing

sam parry
hidden behind trees. By removing
Play happens everywhere the boundary between garden/
— Vauban, Germany street/park/play area, children have a
far wider choice of spaces in which
There is an increasing realisation to play. The approach is underpinned
that play does not just take place by a belief that play should be free
in designated play spaces, but in and undirected by adults. Creating
the whole environment that a child play spaces defined by adults, with
occupies. Future city planning play equipment designed by adults,
needs to recognise that providing a significantly diminishes the ability
fenced-off play space in the middle for the child to use their imagination.
of a housing estate is not adequate By contrast, the safe environment
— the whole estate should be created in Vauban enables children
playable. Vauban, an ‘eco-district’ There are some roads, with a 5km/h to access play spaces freely on their
on the edge of Freiburg in Germany, speed limit — but the majority of own — and to decide where they
has achieved this. The scheme is the outside space is given over want to go and what they want to do.
built on the site of a former military to green, child-friendly playable Under ‘Planning for play’ on p4, we
base in the south of the city. The space. Because so much of Vauban look at how this car-free approach
neighbourhood was designed to be is car-free, planners were able to could be replicated in Britain, where
practically car-free, with 40 per cent create green open space where the car dominates so many cities.
of residents not owning a car and those roads would usually be. There Exemplar schemes could show the
car owners parking in ‘solar garages’ are no set play areas: play happens way, for instance in the designs for
on the edge of the development. everywhere. There is a sandpit here, eco-towns.

thinking and best practice in this ‘Local authority reliance on the catalogue, or what
briefing paper, all those involved is sometimes known as the ‘KFC’
in the design and planning for play over-reliance on the playground — kit, fence, and carpet.
are encouraged to take a much catalogue leads to the The Playlink leisure consultancy,
more holistic, imaginative and ‘KFC’ playground — kit, which works in design, planning,
collaborative approach. strategy and local engagement,
fence, and carpet’ considers this to be a failure of the
The state of play market, with providers and local
disproportionate amount of money authorities’ procurement processes
For decades, bland and spent on playgrounds goes on leading to dull, unimaginative
unimaginative environments have safety surfacing, to the detriment playgrounds.
resulted from the way that play of other facilities. ‘The vast majority
spaces have been procured, and of playgrounds built in the UK are The issue of risk is a recurrent
from a lack of attention to design. not well designed,’ he argues. ‘They one. CABE Space research has
Play spaces tend to look much like are formulaic and are not grounded found that over-sensitivity to risk
each other, no matter where they in what children actually like to do has stifled the design of rich and
are in the country, primarily because when they go out to play. There is an stimulating environments1. Pressures
equipment comes from a small overemphasis on brightly coloured to minimise risk and liability in the
number of manufacturers, and those equipment, an over-preoccupation public realm can lead to authorities
companies often ‘design’ the play with safety and far too little thought ‘playing it safe’, resulting in
spaces, too. and time paid to making them standardised spaces that fail to
playful, interesting places that adults delight, educate or offer young
Fencing originally installed to keep will want to spend time in, as well as people the opportunity to meet or
dogs out, for example, is often children.’ socialise.
in reality more about keeping
children in. Some play experts, In part, this is because of the 1 Living with risk: promoting better public
including Gill, believe that a local authority ‘syndrome’ of over- space design, CABE, 2007

Planning for play elements of place-making. Providing budgets for design, management
a mix of play spaces around streets, and maintenance of play space
It is important that local authorities such as pocket parks, helps them by confirming levels of provision
plan for play provision. Whether become places, rather than just and need.
planning to refurbish or develop a thoroughfares.
play area, or to improve play space Play strategies should be linked to
across a neighbourhood, local Exemplar schemes could show the open space strategies and local
authorities should include play way, for instance in the designs standards for play should be set in
provision in their strategic plans for for the new eco-towns. Play accordance with Planning policy
public space. This strategic thinking partnerships, which have been set guidance note 17 (PPG 17):
should be underpinned by an agreed up to deliver comprehensive play planning for open space, sport
play policy. strategies funded by the Big Lottery and recreation3. This sets out how
Fund, need to continue to steer and local authorities should assess
Play does not and should not co-ordinate this kind of strategic the existing and future needs of
only happen in playgrounds, so approach. Strategies should their communities for open space,
authorities need to consider how to consider planning, design and sport and recreation facilities. This
create a more child-friendly public management of play opportunities, assessment should form the basis
realm overall. Local authorities’ and bring play workers together of an open space strategy that sets
play strategies should therefore with planners and park managers out a local authority’s vision for its
ensure that there is a range of to ensure a joined-up approach open spaces and how that will be
accessible play options across an across the local authority area. Play achieved. Play also needs to be
area. Play areas can be in parks, England and the Big Lottery Fund’s embedded in local development
squares and even on streets, where Planning for play: guidance on the frameworks to maximise the
initiatives such as home zones make development and implementation of opportunities to improve play
for safer play on streets directly a local play strategy explains how through new developments.
outside houses. The Department to develop, implement and sustain
for Transport’s Manual for Streets2 an effective local play strategy. This 2 See www.manualforstreets.org.uk
identifies streets themselves as key can help to access and protect 3 See tinyurl.com/3aqkfn

Designing for play

jane knight/eden project

When it comes to design, creativity
should be encouraged. It will be
helped by an understanding of the
characteristics and history of the
site, to establish a sense of place
and relate to what is there already.
A skilled designer, most likely a
landscape architect, should lead
the process, supplemented with
additional expertise, such as from
a play expert or structural engineer.
To help authorities select these
personnel, the Children’s Play
Information Service (CPIS) has
compiled a list of independent play
designers and landscape architects
who design play spaces and school
grounds. Details can be found on
the CPIS website: www.ncb.org.

Public artists can also add richness

to a project, and art installations Natural play encourages children’s creativity, allowing them to take appropriate risks to learn their boundaries

Case study 2 In developing the play strategy, the partnership still meets regularly.
the council identified gaps in Big Lottery funding is being used
Children aid strategic provision by auditing the provision, effectively to achieve an action
thinking — Birmingham use and quality of play and cross- plan containing some 86 targets.
referencing this to numbers of Fundamental to the success of
children in constituency areas. A play in Birmingham is the delivery
Birmingham has put children play strategy partnership identified of play to children from diverse
at the centre of improving its two key themes for improving play backgrounds and work with a range
play provision. The city’s council opportunities in Birmingham: a of partners in both voluntary and
has adopted the National Youth co-ordinated, citywide programme statutory sectors. The approach
Agency’s ‘Hear by Right’ standards aimed at developing and promoting has made a significant difference
as the measure for the active play in public spaces — particularly to play for children, particularly in
involvement of children and young parks — and a constituency deprived areas of the city. The
people. In 2004, the council formed programme aimed at developing city council’s £3.3m award, the
a multi-agency partnership to and enhancing local play facilities. largest single award nationally,
develop a play policy and strategy Initial difficulties over constituencies has funded free, inclusive play in
for the city. In 2007, CABE Space developing realistic proposals, local open spaces, five centre-
and Play England helped the local because of a lack of technical based projects including creative
authority to develop a play strategy, knowledge and legislation, were playpods, play centres and a youth
resulting in a £3.3m grant from the overcome by support from CABE café. Play rangers have also been
Big Lottery Fund allocated to play. Space and partners. Four years on, appointed.

can sometimes offer children more be applied to urban areas. The design champion Helle Nebelong
play value than equipment. Public guide encourages the use of locally believes that, by contrast to
art works best when integrated from sourced materials and construction natural play spaces, standardised
the outset and public artists can by local crafts people. Groundwork play equipment can actually be
work alongside other consultants Playscape is a balanced design dangerous. As Nebelong explained
extremely effectively. approach to traditional playground at the 2007 CABE Space leaders
design and natural play. The concept programme: ‘Play becomes
Back to nature encourages children to be active simplistic, and children no longer
and creative, allowing them to take have to think about their movement.
Natural play is growing in popularity appropriate risks to learn their The ability to concentrate on
in the UK. Groundwork Trusts boundaries and valuable, lifelong estimated distance, height and risks
and the Forestry Commission, lessons. For more details visit www. needs practice. And the playground
for example, are both delivering groundwork-playscape.org.uk. is where that practising should
interesting projects in this area. begin.’
Natural play spaces contain playful Children prefer natural environments
landscape elements including to play in as these help develop all Play expert Tim Gill believes that
landform, vegetation and natural types of play. In contrast to man- these countries are getting it
elements such as logs, stones, made environments, a natural setting right primarily because landscape
mud and sand. Research studies can create more imaginative play architects enjoy a much closer
have documented the benefits and so prevent the dominance of a involvement in the process. The
that can come from natural play, hierarchy based on physical strength starting point is a holistic look at the
including for children’s learning, that encourages bullying. site, rather than at what pieces of
healthy growth and development. equipment should be bought.
This year the Forestry Commission Much of the momentum behind
is publishing Nature play: simple natural play design originates in In addition, those countries have
and fun ideas for all, an illustrative Denmark, Holland, and Germany. not become as pre-occupied with
guide that provides ideas for local These countries offer important safety as the UK, even though their
forest managers to implement in examples of how to create well- facilities meet the required European
their nature play areas. Many of designed, thoughtful play spaces. standards.
the ideas in the guide can equally Danish landscape architect and play
10 principles for designing play
Design for Play: a guide to creating

jane knight/eden project

successful play spaces4 published
in August by Play England, the
Department for Children, Schools
and Families and DCMS. It
provides ideas and practical
resources for building new play
spaces in a fresher and more
inspiring manner. The guide,
supported by CABE Space,
advocates a fresh design-led
approach to commissioning,
based on 10 principles and
encapsulated in one golden rule:
a successful play space is a place
in its own right, specially designed
for its location, in such a way as
to provide as much play value as
possible. The rules ask practitioners The Eden Project’s Mud Between Your Toes initiative creates opportunities for young people to get out more
to imagine a play space that is: and reconnect with the natural world in their community

1 Designed to enhance its

setting — successful play
spaces are designed to fit their
4 Designed so that children
can play in different ways
— successful play spaces can be
7 Where children of all ages play
together — good play spaces
avoid segregating children based on
surroundings and enhance the used in different ways by children age or ability and are laid out so that
local environment, complementing and young people of different ages equipment and features can be used
attractive spaces and enhancing and interests; they can also be by a wide range of children.
poorer environments. important social spaces for parents

2 Located in the best possible

and carers, as well as for children.
8 Designed to enable children
to stretch and challenge
place — successful play spaces
are located carefully ‘to be where
children would play naturally’. While
5 Geared towards encouraging
disabled and able-bodied
children to play together —
themselves in every way
— Children and young people
need opportunities to experience
children often enjoy feeling as if they children with different abilities can challenge and excitement in their
are away from adult view, there is a play together in well-designed play play.
fine balance between a space that is spaces, and parents and carers who
pleasantly secluded and one that is
remote and hidden away.
are themselves disabled should be
able to gain access to play spaces
if they are to accompany their
9 Maintained for play value and
environmental sustainability
— good play spaces are designed

3 Close to nature — grassy

mounds, planting, logs and
children. and constructed using sustainable
materials and maintained
boulders can all help to make a
more attractive and playable setting
for equipment, and planting can also
6 Loved by the community
— a successful community
engagement process will help
to encourage different play

help attract birds and other wildlife

to bring the play space to life.
create a site that the community
likes and which meets its needs.
(CABE Space’s What would you do
10 Flexible and able to evolve
as the children grow —
Building some ‘slack space’ into the
with this space? offers constructive layout — areas with no predefined
4 Free to download from the Play England ways to involve children in public function — can help introduce the
website: www.playengland.org.uk space design. See p7 for details.) potential for change and evolution.
Community involvement Managing play a place in its own right, and the
person responsible for the play
For the first time ever, the Those responsible for the areas was responsible for staff, too.
government will be assessing local management of new spaces should ‘That meant the starting point was
authority performance on play be involved at the outset of the the users of the space,’ she says.
by introducing a play indicator design and implementation stage.
— NI199 — in 2009/10. This means This can help them to develop an Conclusion
that every year, children and young understanding of the approach
people will be asked how satisfied to the design of the play space It is clear that play provision in
they are with their local play areas and ensure that the designer England is at a crossroads. The
and parks. This underlines the takes account of the maintenance country is better placed than ever
importance of consultation for implications. before to transform the quality of
play and the need to engage with new and existing play spaces, with
the community in a realistic and Adequate resourcing for new government funding, design
meaningful way. maintenance also needs to be guidance and a new national
considered from the outset. Specific indicator. Over the next three years,
CABE Space’s Spaceshaper is a issues that might need addressing England’s local authorities face
practical tool to help achieve this. include managing and maintaining a great challenge to deliver the
Spaceshaper helps assess the different types of surfacing, national play strategy by enriching
quality of a public space by bringing vegetation, equipment and fencing. our public spaces with the upgrade
those who use a space together A more naturalistic approach to play of 3,500 play areas. But if this is
with those who manage it. A will need a maintenance regime that done strategically, creatively and
facilitated workshop involves a site focuses on landscape, rather than without undue fear of risk, this could
visit and structured and constructive equipment inspection. represent a pinnacle for the design
dialogue between users and of public space in England.
professionals on the strengths and A strategic approach to managing
weaknesses of a space, and where resources is needed to ensure they To get there, local authorities should
the priorities for change lie. CABE remain valued and protected in the be creative and brave in taking the
Space is working with partners long term. One solution that could national play strategy forward. They
to develop a version of the tool work is, as play consultant Sue need to take a much more holistic,
specifically for children and young Gutteridge experienced in Stirling, imaginative and collaborative
people. To find out more, visit: Scotland, to have a dedicated team approach to the design of play
www.cabe.org.uk/spaceshaper. for play areas as part of children’s space, led by professionals with
services. Each site was treated as the appropriate range of skills,
In addition, CABE Space guidance, knowledge and experience. This
sam parry

What would you do with this will enable a radical shift away from
space? explores creative and those ‘KFC’ playgrounds, which
constructive ways to involve fail to provide a sense of place, to
children and young people in public a more naturalistic approach that
space and sets out some of the will provide rich and stimulating
key issues that projects may face. play spaces, reflecting local site
A selection of the following case characteristics and need.
studies is available on the CABE
website via www.cabe.org.uk/ Children should be put at the
casestudies: heart of the planning and design
of public space for play, aided by
n Cowley Teenage Space, Brixton, practitioners with a wide variety of
London skillset.
n Evergreen Adventure Playground,
Hackney, London Ultimately, it will be by integrating
n Freemantle Pavilion, Southampton more playable spaces into the public
n SPACEmakers, Bristol realm that a more child-friendly
n Faelledparken and Valbyparken, environment can be created — one
Copenhagen. that also meets the needs of the
Children should be at the heart of planning wider community.
Play is a hugely important part of
physical and emotional development.
But years of neglect in both design and
investment have left many communities
with limited,
Climate change banal
is theand standardised
most serious threat we face. Its consequences will remain
facilities. Now, with £235m
unpredictable, and initial impacts of on the UK are likely to be less grave than in other
parts funding
of the world, but coming
planningon nowstream,
for adaptation is essential.
there is a real opportunity to get the
next generation of play spaces right and
to be more strategic about the options As a public body, CABE
encourages policymakers to
for play in every area. This briefing from cooler, cleaner air.
About this briefing Adaptation projects create places that work for
CABE Space highlights best practice in people. We help local planners
apply national design policy and
This CABEand Space strategy
briefing and urges greater
n 12th Avenue Green Street, Adaptation demands advisethat we and
developers startarchitects,
sets out lessons learned both Portland, USA really understandingpersuading
how our them towns
to put people’s
use of creative, natural play spaces.
in the UK and around the
It is
n Augustenborg, Malmö, Sweden
needs first. We show public
and cities work naturally. How water
aimed not only at those
world from using public spaces working directly
n Bristol Business Park, Bristol
sector clients how to commission
courses through a town,
that instance,
meet the needs
in theadapt
to help designto the and
climatemanagement of playPlan, Chicago, USA
n CitySpace and so how to manage it.users. And we seek to
of their
inspire the public to demand more
facilities, but atwillanyone
crisis. CABE Space be working in public
n Chiswick Park, Hounslow, London from their buildings and spaces.
publishing detailed case n Cleveleys Coast Protection, Lancs Urban green spaces forminfluencing
a natural
spaces in towns and
studies later in 2008, as part
cities. n Milton Keynes flood plain forest
infrastructure that weis work
as to critical
and inspiring,
create well-designed,
of ongoing work on sustainable n Olympic Park, Sydney, Australia support urban life aswelcoming
streets,places. CABE Space
is a specialist unit within CABE
cities. You can find out more, n River Irwell flood control scheme, drainage and sewers that—aimsand justexcellence
to bring like to
and sign upinformation
for updates, at Lancashire, and Salford strategic these, it is an infrastructure
the design,that needsand
maintenance of parks and public
DCSF/DCMS Fair Play consultation: flood risk assessment investment. At the same time, this will
space in our towns and cities.
www.dcsf.gov.uk/publications/fairplay n River Quaggy, Lewisham, London create much more beautiful, healthier
places. Edited by David Taylor for CABE
Play England: the national support body for local authorities Space, with contributions from
delivering the government’s play pathfinder and playbuilder Helen Woolley, Simeon Packard,
The future will bring warmer and wetter Adaptation to climate change means
programme: www.playengland.org.uk
The challenges ahead Kath Akoslovski and Sam Parry
winters, hotter and drier summers, making towns and cities more resilient. (recipient of CABE Space
scholarship 2007/08)
The Bigsea levels,
Lottery more
Fund’s flooding
projects and and Well-designed, flexible public spaces
grant awards: Pressure on land from high density
other extreme weather. Because of are their best chance to adapt to Our planning policy framework
Front cover photo: Natural
the delayed effects from greenhouse these threats. Spaces that are softer, encourages higherEngland/Doorstep
urban densities. Greens
National Children’s Bureau promotes the voices, interests
gas emissions,of we
and well-being are and
children locked
younginto greener, more organic and natural
people: This makes urban areas more efficient,
Produced by Horticulture Week
significant climate change, regardless will store water and are critical to
www.ncb.org.uk for instance in theironuse of resources
behalf of CABE Space and
of any emission reductions that we modifying urban temperatures. Green and the provision of publicin October
published services. 2008.
The secure
may Children’s
now.Play Information Service (CPIS): the national
spaces with a generous planting of But it does increase pressure on
library on children’s play, based at the National Children’s
trees link to form a network offering
Reproduction other than for
green space. In particular, small-scale
Bureau: www.ncb.org.uk/cpis. noncommercial purposes only
local spaces, whichwithwill
the make
permissionlifeof the
The Free Play Network: charity dedicated to improving a warming city tolerable, arepublication
publisher. This being is
Stephen McLaren

available in alternative formats on

children’s opportunities for outdoor play: permanently lost to development.
request from the publisher.
Good urban design should provide
Groundwork: federation of trusts working to improve the
quality of the local environment: www.groundwork.org.uk solutions for the management of water,
temperatures and biodiversity. This
could mean planning authorities need
to set a development framework that
prioritises the provision of strategic
good-quality open space for social
and environmental reasons, rather
than releasing it to development for
economic return.

Water management
Water will present different challenges
in different parts of the country in
different seasons. In the
Produced on behalf of CABE Space by
Extreme weather events will bring more unpredictability to our daily lives