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The city as an urban playground

conference contribution
posted on 2023-05-23, 08:31 authored by O'Byrne, Katherine, Helen NorrieHelen Norrie

Australian cities lack spaces that are suitable for children, and this affects the potential to provide inclusive environments for people of all ages. Locations that welcome children are by default also places for mothers, fathers, grandparents, and other children – and these spaces also extend to the widest sectors of the community. Developing child-friendly spaces will contribute to the future growth of cities as inclusive and cohesive environments.

While many urban strategies promoting children in the city focus on providing playgrounds and recreational facilities, this study considers the design of the city as an urban playground. It examines how understanding children’s play can inform the design of play space, acknowledging that this process is not limited to the provision of amenity alone - it is a matter of grasping the cognitive, emotional and imaginativedimension to being young. The study examines the different types of play – active, social and imaginative – in order to understand how the built environment can create ‘embodied spaces’ that lead to the haptic engagement of children.

This is not merely an issue of where to put the swing set! This study examines the characteristics of flexible play spaces that can be used for a diverse range of activities, and presents sets of criteria to evaluate play environments that can also be used as strategies for planning and design. This leads to a series of precedents that provide real life examples of where this criterion has been implemented. Speculations are then made on how councils, planners and designers can come ‘playworkers’, agents that proactively facilitate the design of urban space to promote the active engagement of children in the city, providing flexible play spaces that can be used by people of all ages.


Publication title

"UrbanAgiNation": Proceedings of the 6th International Urban Design Conference 2013


Cindy Axisa






School of Architecture and Design


Urban Design Australia

Place of publication

Nerang, Queensland

Event title

International Urban Design Conference 2013

Event Venue

Sydney, Australia

Date of Event (Start Date)


Date of Event (End Date)


Rights statement

Copyright 2013 Urban Design Australia

Repository Status

  • Restricted

Socio-economic Objectives

Construction design not elsewhere classified

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