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Playing close to home
The outdoor spaces in residential areas containing large numbers of rented apartments represent venues that can promote communication. They can counteract the anonymity of modern urban life and encourage the various generations to come together. Another positive benefit of a sociable and attractive outdoor environment in such areas is that it can make residents feel more 'at home', an effect that can even neutralise the stress of regularly moving house. Many property developers and property owners have recognised this and have begun to invest in improving the external spaces of their residential sites.
Unfortunately, this positive development is meeting with resistance from many quarters. Children are loud but adults want peace and quiet - children create mess and adults like everything to be neat and tidy; hence the differing needs of the various resident interest groups are often diametrically opposed. The German standards and regulations that apply to playground construction and are intended to promote the healthy development of children in their living environment have all too frequently proved to be nothing more than paper tigers - ineffectual when it comes to actually reinforcing the natural entitlement of children to play as enshrined in Article 31 of the UN Convention of the Rights of the Child.
The second paragraph of Art. 10 of the building regulations issued as a model for the various states of the Federal Republic of Germany stipulates the following: "If buildings containing more than three apartments are constructed, a playground for children must also be provided on the same site. Such a playground will not be required if there is a shared playground facility under construction or already in existence in the immediate vicinity. The size of children's playgrounds should be appropriate to the number and size of the apartments on the site. In the case of existing structures, the creation of a corresponding children's playground may be prescribed if this is considered necessary for the health and safety of the children." And DIN 18034, the German standard that applies to the construction and operation of playgrounds, stipulates that: "Appropriate facilities for play must be provided where children and young people live. An objective should thus be to ensure that playgrounds and open spaces that can be used for play are located within easy reach of the corresponding residential areas." As is apparent, these requirements are not unambiguous and allow for considerable free scope. Tenacity will be one of the disciplines required of anyone attempting to see that these conditions are actually met.
Looking at the current status quo in residential areas, it emerges that the situation can differ from place to place. The contrast was particularly evident at this year's German Federal Horticultural Show (BUGA) in Premnitz. On the show site was a separate, pay to use, imaginatively designed play strip directly along a bank of the River Havel while between the apartment blocks opposite it there was just one sad and lonely see-saw to be seen. Let us hope that the authorities leave sufficient of the play strip subsequently standing; even this diversified play facility on the Havel is not enough to cover the playground needs of a town that boasts 8400 inhabitants and which has only one other public playground in the town centre.
But, happily, there are not always conflicts when it comes to the use of space for playgrounds in residential areas. If they are well planned and the residents are involved at an early stage, it is quite possible to generate a positive attitude in favour of a playground. Among other things, such facilities provide the opportunity for local neighbours to more readily come together. The housing cooperative in Amberg in Bavaria, for example, regularly plans for the renovation of its outdoor spaces and places considerable emphasis on the provision of play areas: "We are a cooperative association and as such we don't use our external areas as showcases simply designed to impress visitors; we primarily design them to be used as recreational spaces for our members and their families. We are particularly concerned to ensure that children should be able to grow up in a nature-like environment offering imaginative play options that encourages exercise as a form of fun. We tend to install play equipment that looks as if it has grown naturally from the ground and at the same time provides amusing centrepieces.”
Two playgrounds In Regensburg belonging to the housing cooperative were renovated in 2015. The concepts were adapted to the needs of the target groups.
Paulsdorferweg playground (for young children):
Play equipment: approx. €15,000; landscaping: approx. €7500; site area: approx. 179 m2
Play equipment: approx. €30,500; landscaping; approx. €19,000; site area: approx. 105 m2
As the images of the playground constructed by SIK-Holz® in the Kaiser-Friedrich-Allee show, it is in conformity with the philosophy of the housing association. Two kinds of equipment have been installed; those that are less activity-intensive and those that require more exertion. There is a stable green perimeter and high quality seating and balancing stones surround the playground.
Other property and real estate organisations in other towns and cities are taking a similar approach. These facilities should be designed to provide for a wide variety of different play activities. Swings, climbing, hanging and balancing elements should be provided in the exercise-orientated sectors together with play houses and sand play equipment to provide for more passive activities elsewhere. There also seems to be a trend towards constructing playgrounds on top of underground car parks; this is probably mainly attributable to the increasing shortage of space in the urban environment. However, this is also evidence that there is a policy aimed at accommodating the needs of children and car owners 'under one roof', as it were. These sites present playground equipment manufacturers with challenges similar to those they face when positioning items in locations undermined by the roots of trees. In such situations, the use of tall climbing structures that require particularly deep foundations will often prove to be inappropriate.
As a rule, those constructing playgrounds usually have a budget of €10,000 to €30,000 to spend on the equipment. There is of course not necessarily any upper limit - the budget available for the prestigious playground in the residential area of Hamburg's HafenCity was considerably larger. HafenCity is one of the major development projects in Hamburg and what is constructed here will define Hamburg's city centre for many decades to come. The new quarter is being built to make it not only particularly efficient and sustainable but also with the aim of providing a model for European inner city design in the 21st century. At the same time, the master plan is flexible enough to ensure that it will be readily possible to adapt the situation to any future changes to the underlying conditions of the development process.
In the HafenCity park that extends for 7100 m², SIK-Holz® has created a recreational facility designed to be used for play, exercise and relaxation by all generations. At the centre of the site is a pirate play ship that is surrounded by a shallow water basin. Three meandering water courses reproduce the various arms of the River Elbe with its islands in miniature. They create an individual context for this special place that has been ingeniously supplemented with play equipment made of natural robinia wood.
The planning process deliberately incorporated the aspects of innovation and participation - children were encouraged to become actively involved. This is a factor that will enhance the subsequent acceptance of the site. The finished playground world, which was constructed by landscape architects WFP-Werkstatt Freiräume, thus represents the wishes expressed by the children. The potential for any synergy that could be generated by means of inclusion of the surrounding structures was exploited to the maximum. Hence, the children in the neighbouring daycare centre can also use the playground for their activities.
The HafenCity model in Hamburg is not without its critics. But for local reporter Geneviéve Wood, the children who live there are truly lucky. She writes: "This is already the district for families and it is becoming even more so. Families tend to concentrate in the Nidus and Hafenliebe developments constructed by community associations and housing projects where they encounter a family-friendly ambience in which they can create their own happy and contented domestic microcosms. These families, who are moving from the Hamburg boroughs of Eimsbüttel, Ottensen and St. Pauli, drawn by the adventure offered by the HafenCity, discover here an unusually tranquil environment in which their children can play in protected and increasingly green inner courtyards. Because here side roads lined with parked cars are a rarity and in their place are wide pavements and riverside walkways, parents can allow their children considerable free rein."
There are ways and means to improve the recreational potential of open spaces in residential areas: witness the HafenCity in Hamburg and the Kaiser-Friedrich-Allee development in Regensburg.
Regensburg: Wohnungsbau- und Siedlungswerk Werkvolk eG