Tanya is a Sydney urban designer and was the principal author of Landcom’s recently published Residential Design Guide. Her Fellowship study aims to inform policymakers and urban designers of play yards as a potential model for urban renewal projects such as Sydney’s Green Square. It is a timely topic for high-density developments looking to broaden their appeal beyond childless households and for planning agencies seeking wider community acceptance of transit- oriented densification strategies.
Planning and design professionals will not be surprised to learn that the traditional venue for children’s outdoor play – the backyard – is shrinking into a courtyard or being substituted by a balcony. The 2006 Census found 11% of Sydney children living in flats.
Risk aversive parenting
Planners and designers not in the parenting phase of life, however, may be surprised by the latest research on where and how Australian children are spending their leisure time.
Home based, sedentary activities or structured extra-curricular classes are replacing outdoor, casual play with friends. Two thirds of children are exceeding the recommended time of two hours per day of small screen recreation, according to the Productivity Commission report on childhood obesity. Qualitative studies from Deakin University show that parents are constraining their children’s independent outdoor play due to ‘stranger danger’ and road safety fears. How can urban planning and design respond to these social trends?
Rethinking places for children
Copenhagen’s 24 ‘play yards’ are free, enclosed, and robust play spaces for families in high-density neighbourhoods. On her Fellowship study in 2012, Tanya will be documenting the play yards’ physical features and distilling these into replicable principles, as well as the operational practices.
Key to understanding the play yards will be the role of the concierge, a person who does not supervise or organize children, but maintains a safe environment including lots of ‘loose fit’ equipment like tricycles, racquets, balls and sand toys.
Other research questions will include:
• What residential densities support the feasibility and popularity of play yards? Is it density and/or design that adds the social dimension of games to a playground?
• Do the play yards operate differently in different socio-economic neighbourhoods?
• How does the design attract younger children and their parents, making the play yard feel popular and safe enough that 7-12 year old children can play without their parents?
• How can the play yard model be adapted, given our legal framework, so that Australian children can once again enjoy that most enriching and healthy play – having fun outside with other children?
In preparation for the study, Tanya would welcome comments or suggestions from Urban Design Forum readers. She can be contacted on [email protected]
And if you have an interesting research topic applicable to the Australian community, applications for 2012 Churchill Fellowships open on 1 November 2011.