Designing play areas in neighborhoods, a forgotten necessity in urban planning

Designing play areas in neighborhoods, a forgotten necessity in urban planning

A.Noroozi, M.Nastaran

Play areas are one of the necessities to be taken into account in urban planning. In traditional cities, children could play almost in every part of the city including alleys, streets,… But in modern cities, such areas are no longer safe enough for children. On the other hand, due to the overpopulation and lack of play areass in neighborhoods, cities have turned into child-unfriendly. Designing proper play areas in urban areas should be considered as a top priority in urban planning which can promote residents, children in particular, sense of belonging to their city and beautify neighborhoods and create joyful atmospheres in the cities. This issue needs well-thought strategies and criteria. Some of these criteria include specifying standards for accessibility of play areas in urban spaces. The present study deals with this issue through an analytic-descriptive approach.



Urban spaces have undergone significant changes in the path of moving from traditionalism to modernism. Some of these developments have been constructive and some of them have resulted in the negligence of some useful activities. The issue of play areass and children’s share of urban spaces is one of the issues which have been ignored in modern urban planning. Children have not been given their due share of urban spaces and their major activity which is playing is getting restricted as urban areas are no longer safe enough for them and cities are getting more distant from human-centered standards. Therefore, this vital and fateful activity for children should be dealt with fundamentally in urban planning. In late 1880s, after the emergence of traumas, overcrowded streets became dangerous zones for children and parks and play areas in neighborhoods offered them a safer place for playing. (G. Bown, Modares, 2008).

Play areas are part of urban space. In the past, every part of traditional cities were deemed as a safe place for children. Children had unlimited access to streets, alleys, … to play. But nowadays, in urban spaces, they cannot have the same freedom as their access has been restricted. As a matter of fact, the value of children’s plays and games and play areas and their active and joyful presence has been forgotten.



It seems that the existence of play areas in collective spaces should be given a high priority as children are considered as less-capable members of the neighborhood. The present study attempts to deal with this issue through a descriptive-analytic approach and collecting data on the basis of a documented study.

1. Necessity of neighborhood play and play areas in urban spaces

With the development of urban life, the city has become less accessible for children and cannot meet their needs properly as children’s access to the nature and natural environments has been restricted. Thus, their chances for playing in urban spaces are decreasing on a regular basis. Children’s free time is spent on playing computer games and watching TV programs. Living in apartments has set some limitation for children and has limited their interaction with the natural environment. (Izadpanah, Jahromi, 2004). Play is a natural, joyful, wonderful and mysterious activity. It is a means for conveying emotions, establishing relations, describing experiences, revealing desires. It is an objective communication tool for children. It enables them to communicate with their environment. Play meets children’s motional-sensational needs and enables them to release their energy in a way that enhances their mental tranquility and boosts their dynamic behaviors. If this latent energy is not released, child may be afflicted with anxiety, depression and hyperactivity. (Mohammad Ismail, 2008).

The social needs of children can be divided into three groups. Social needs in family environment, social needs in educational environment, social needs in public environment. The public environment can include the public spaces in neighborhoods, … children living in apartments have no companions except TV sets and their siblings. They face tired parents who come back from work and are too exhausted to play with their children. Children living in urban spaces are under much more stress than those living in rural areas. Anyhow, children, who consist one third of the world population, are facing discrimination. (Shieh, 2007). New cities follow modern urban planning principles and as a result give rise to cities that are child-unfriendly. Children living in rural spaces, can somehow, communicate with the natural environment surrounding them and enjoy a larger and healthier space for playing. At the same time, their mothers are not employed and are housewives who have more time to take care of their children’s needs. Play cannot be eliminated from children’s life. As a matter of fact they will never stop playing and if they cannot find a suitable space for playing, they will do it in any other available place. This can be seen as a protest by children at the quality of life in modern urban spaces.



Playgrounds can be divided into three main categories: playgrounds in neighborhoods, playgrounds in schools, playgrounds in areas. (APA, 2006, 379). In modern cities, this fact that children, as less-capable citizens, should have easier access to playgrounds and play areas, has been neglected. The fact is that such areas have been located in vicinities which are far from home and parents cannot allow their children to go there alone. So, play areas should be designed in neighborhoods where children can easily go there. Other play areas located in the city cannot be used as a permanent play area for children due to accessibility problems.

Etzioni (1959), a prominent urbanist, believes urban spaces should be designed in a way that promote the position of neighborhoods. He suggests that special places should be designed in neighborhoods where people can come together and communicate and interact with each others. He believes public spaces should promote the chances of social interaction in the society. These kinds of proposals indicate that a new trend of micro-urbanism are coming into existence. (Madanipour, 2008). Neighborhoods are considered as units in urban structure which decrease intra-city journeys and energy consumption. The existence of play areas in neighborhoods is as necessary as that of primary schools’. Lack of children’s easy access to play areas can make them try other unhealthy entertainments and games as play is a daily need for children.



The effect of neighborhood play area on urban appearance

Human builds the environment and environment nurtures human. Therefore, when there is no environment, there will be no activity either. Without human-friendly spaces, a healthy society cannot be created. Lack of favorable urban spaces including open spaces, will have unfavorable effects on human life.


Lynch describes readability, as the ability to distinct places in urban spaces. Readability can affect people’s understanding of opportunities which arise in their environments. It means that it affects people ease of access to a certain place ( Behzadfar, 2006). Creating special marked spaces in neighborhoods can boost readability of a city. Some neighborhoods have low readability rate. Setting up play areas in neighborhoods will serve as a landmark for them because such open areas include special and one-of-the-kind furniture and architecture which can be easily distinguished.

Diversity determine the existence of different functions in a context. Diversity increases options and this is especially the case for children housewives, parents who have little children, poor families,… who are seen as less-capable members of the society. (Behzadfar, 2006). Diversity of function is the direct result of diversity. By setting up various functions neighborhoods and urban spaces, the quality of such functions will be boosted. Parks, playgrounds, urban organizations, schools, clinics, stores, … all alongside each other, will boost the degree of the responsiveness of the environment.

Also, the existence of open spaces and play areas in neighborhoods can have direct impact on the sensational richness of the space and the sense of belonging of the citizens. The resident of neighborhoods don’t like to come from a district which is devoid of beautiful spaces and they almost have no sense of belonging to such neighborhoods. (Behzadfar, 2006).

Dynamicity and stagnation are among the major criteria for evaluating the quality of urban spaces. Abrupt opening boosts the dynamicity of the area and causes a place for stopping. In urban and local access the issues dynamicity and stagnation of the spaces should be taken into consideration. (Tavasoli, 1992).

Horizontal spaces inculcate a static state which includes stillness and calmness. (Tavasoli, 1992). Therefore, play areas can take this role and bring about calmness and serenity in neighborhoods. These areas as horizontal spaces that have low density will create calmness in the neighborhood.

In this regard, in the communities which more security is needed, the hierarchy of areas is of great significance and defensible areas gradually from the most private spaces to most public ones, get connected. A defensible space is an area which facilitates identifying and controlling activities for residents. (Eini Far, 2007). Therefore, play areas can play a significant role in bridging semi-private areas and public spaces. Professor John Lang play areas boost security in the environment. So, playgrounds can be viewed as defensible spaces.

Many of the behavioral needs of citizens in modern cities have not been met and that is why these cities lack proper function (Bahraini 2002). In behavioral sciences and environmental psychology, one of the most important issues is the review of the friendly relationship between human and his environment. Such attitude has given rise to new concepts such as agronomic urban spaces. A living space and neighborhood which is formed without considering human needs, is an anti-human space and cannot arouse any sense of belonging among its residents.

Play areas can have a great impact on the social contexts of the neighborhoods. Nowadays, streets and alleys have turned into ugly places which have no identity and play areas can create a lively and joyful space in neighborhoods and promote the social atmosphere of the neighborhoods.


Analysis and Conclusion

As mentioned earlier, the image of the cities has changed during the journey from tradition to modernism. Visual contamination, un-readability, child-unfriendliness are among the negative features of modern cities. Modern cities have failed to meet the needs of different vulnerable groups of the society including children. A sort of disorder can be seen in the urban hierarchy in some cities. Play areas are necessary for city and should not be given luxury function. They should be given an independent function in a bid to take an effective step in organizing and planning play areas in urban spaces.


The following policies are suggested to promote the average level of play areas and as a result have positive effect on the appearance of neighborhoods in urban spaces.

a. Play areas can play a more effective role in the innovation and reconstruction of the dilapidated areas of the city.

b. 1-8 year-old children’s play areas are smaller than neighborhood play areas (for 1-15 year old children). Accessibility of such areas should be given special priority as younger children are not capable of taking a long distance to carry out their daily activity that is play.

c. Having different functions for an urban area can decrease its quality.



A stable city can be established only via paying attention to all generations of citizens including children. Play areas can change the appearance of urban spaces and increase children’s share of urban spaces and create a lively atmosphere in neighborhoods and highlight their sense of belonging. In fact, this is the ultimate objective of innovationists and urbanists who seek to promote quality of life in urban spaces through establishing friendly relations among the residents of the neighborhoods.



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