times of densification – playground planning in the narrowest of spaces!
Landscape architect Yvonne Göckemeyer (Graduate Engineer, Federation of German Landscape Architects (BDLA))
Multiple usage - already taken for granted.
In times of building densification, the city centre space is increasingly shrinking while at the same time more and more space requirements and needs have to fulfilled. Within the climate change context, for instance, unpolluted rainwater storage during heavy rainfall and cool air channels to prevent overheating are just two important criteria which may be mentioned in this context.
However, there is also a need for traditional functions of play and green areas where people of all age groups can meet, relax and get in contact with each other.
In particular it is the children who need free space to develop their motor and social skills while they are playing. Besides the fact that any kind of playful activity has the positive effect of linking people, regardless of whether they are old or young, poor or rich.
So where are the required spatial resources?
It is a matter of fact that in times of building densification and modification there are lots of space demands. However, as shown by many other European cities, the solution could be relatively simple. The relevant traffic reduction, for instance, could be achieved by providing more attractive offers for public transport, car-sharing as well as for pedestrians and cyclists. This suggestion also includes all popular questions around parked cars. Because each passenger car needs approximately 20 sqm parking space and movement area. In residential districts, parking bays are often located at the road side at ground level and therefore occupy large space resources.
Learning from history
In former times, it was much easier for all generations involved. The residential street spaces were mostly free and could thus be used for (ball) games, roller-skating, biking, hopscotch, double Dutch etc. In addition, there were many other unused open areas to play at, and playgrounds used to provide special offers with swings, slides etc.
Today it is too difficult or even impossible to play on the middle of the street due to the fact that cars often occupy too much space. No later when the first ball hits one of the parked cars, at least this type of physical activity will be over.
Why is open space so important for children?
Children need to get in contact with other children. They are active creatures, just like us adults. Children must obtain wide-ranging experiences, go on adventures, experience the sensation of freedom. To enable them to do so, a lot of space is required.
Those children without the possibility to be physically active are predestined to suffer from social and motor disorders, attention deficit, overweight, health problems etc.
Is this problem a result of the new media?
Nowadays the blame for too little exercise is often on the new media, in former times it was on increased television consumption. However, that is only half the truth. Rather more it can be observed that some natural components of physical activity are restricted by the parents themselves due to their increased need for safety.
Just ask among parents which of their primary school children are allowed to go to school alone. Not to mention the playground afternoons. Or pass a primary school just before school starts or ends. It is here where you can witness the exaggerated care for children. In addition, those children walking or cycling to school alone are endangered by the respective traffic situation.
As several studies have already proven and continue to prove, such taxi services provide a false sense of safety. It is a matter of fact that most school children who get injured in traffic accidents are sitting in the car of their parents when the accident takes place.
It is in car free zones, where parents generally allow their children to go alone to the playground. As shown by a study carried out in Nuremberg where a car free zone and an area where cars are allowed have been compared, the children of the car free district went to school and playgrounds alone one year earlier than those children of the district where cars are allowed.
And if you walk through those districts at times when cars are not allowed, you will meet children on the pathways and of course also on playgrounds, moving freely without adults in their play area. And adults, too, are hiking on safe ways, because there are no cars.
Solutions are available
Until the implementation of the traffic and mobility change, the necessary parking spaces could, for instance, be provided through small parking garages where cars are stacked and space-savingly parked and thus make paths and road spaces available again.
A good example is provided by the parking space concept in the car free zone of Cologne Nippes. The initiators of the district themselves wanted to benefit from the fact of not having an own car. The idea was to keep noise and exhaust fumes "outside”. When doing so, it became clear that without parked cars in the district, the relevant streets and pathways offered much more space for multiple uses.
The number of car parks per accomodation unit within the car free district is 0.2. There are 80 car parks for 400 accomodation units. This has been implemented successfully for 10 years through the modular parking garage which includes 10 car sharing parking spaces with a further ten at the end of the settlement. The parking garage is designed to occupy just one construction field which allows to remove it easily in case space for further housing development is needed.
Networking is required
During the route planning process, it should be taken into account that central locations which are important for both children and adults can easily be accessed on foot and by bike. A respective road system will link playgrounds, bus stops, living spaces and more.
In Germany the number of cars is four times higher than the number of children!
This ratio which is based on the well-functioning car lobby should be changed in the near future. Because the spaces which are occupied due to the increasing number of motorised individuals and the respective number of parked cars, are urgently required in the metropolitan areas to provide the inhabitants and visitors with free open spaces.
Just guess how much more secure the pathways would become on foot or by bike if there were no more or at least less cars parked across the pavements. Or how much more free spaces could be gained by applying speed limit 30 throughout the entire inner- city area? How many playgrounds, green spaces, seating areas could be generated through freeing inner urban areas from motorised individual transport?
That this approach is feasible has been proven by numerous European cities of all size groups.
Thus, it is time to return extensive parts of the city to our children, pedestrians and cyclists.
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