Griesheim – the first playable town in Germany

Griesheim – the first playable town in Germany

However, things have changed completely in Griesheim, a town of 26,000 inhabitants situated in South Hesse. Open space has been given back to the children – an act of reclaiming public space. Griesheim has become the first playable town in Germany.

“The municipal crisis is not an issue in Griesheim because we implement creative and smart financing ideas if we are positive about something.” Mayor Norbert Leber was convinced of the concept of the playable town from the outset. It all began with the annual mayor’s consultation hour for children. Schoolchildren expressed their displeasure with the boring ways to and from school. The town took immediate action to make the municipality of 26,000 inhabitants more child-orientated and child-friendly. Bernhard Meyer – he himself a resident of Griesheim and a grandfather – was commissioned to explore the lifeworlds of the children of Griesheim. Prof. Bernhard Meyer (63) has worked at the Department of Social Work and Social Pedagogy of the Protestant University of Applied Sciences in Darmstadt since 1978. The educationalist accompanied the children on their way to school, to the sports ground or to music lessons. Based on these findings, the professor developed a practical research project whose aim was to reclaim public space for children. He found the South Hessian town of Griesheim to be an open-minded municipality. The mayor, town council and school administrations assisted the process further. “You have to entice children to head off to school. It is important to provide incentives along the way. And the town must be willing to support ‘Space for Play Spaces’,“ says Professor Meyer.

Firstly, the schoolchildren marked their way to school with chalk. A questionnaire survey revealed what other places are important for children (for example the sports ground or shops and supermarkets) and how they get there. In the end, all could see on a city map how the children’s path network looks like. The academic now scanned all relevant streets for open spaces. Meyer: “It was surprising as there were more than 100 options.”

“If there was some play equipment installed along the way, it would be much more fun. We could simply have a rest,” a child from Griesheim said. And the children’s wishes were made a reality: After examination by the municipal public order office and land registry office, 101 spaces in residential zones as well as on major streets were left. Here, play objects were installed right in the middle of the pavements: climbing frames, balance beams, turning discs, leapfrog balls, hopscotches, a surfboard for swinging, monkey bars, a kaleidoscope, a sand pattern disc, logs, erratic boulders. On 11 September 2010, the 111th and thus last of these play objects was installed. “Thanks to the 100 play objects, the spaces between playgrounds have now also become interesting and the children can play their way through Griesheim," says Prof. Meyer. In addition to the 25 playgrounds, there are now 101 further play objects installed along children’s paths, which make children want to get outdoors. The real challenge now lies in not losing oneself in the play, completely forgetting about the time and being late for school.

The playground equipment has been manufactured by the companies Conlastic, Spielgeräte Richter and Kompan. “We provided some play equipment for the playable town of Griesheim. We are pleased to be part of this project as it is an unparalleled and exemplary solution which could serve as a role model for other municipalities. Griesheim is a relevant example of open spaces in a densely populated urban area and helps tie families to the town. Here, children’s interests and concerns are taken seriously and playing in public spaces becomes a matter of course,“ says Marret Johannsen, Kompan GmbH.

Bernhard Meyer developed his concept also with due regard to child safety. The crossings are marked with the professor’s invention, the “Little Griesheimer”. These quadrangular signs depicting a yellow figure do not give precedence to pedestrians, but indicate where children can cross the street most safely. This concept is complemented by “temporary play streets“. Various streets in Grieshiem are transformed into real play streets, traffic-calmed zones without cars, for the duration of an afternoon each.

Karin Hofmann from the local social security office has noticed that also 15-year-olds lay down on a large hemispherical object to stretch their backs. Furthermore, she reports that none of the objects has been vandalised so far.

Of course, some residents also complained and expressed their displeasure. Many didn’t want to have play equipment installed directly in front of their living room windows, some were worried about potential noise pollution caused by playing children or feared that the objects might be used by teenagers at night. The critics, however, could be convinced. Mayor Leber: “What is really required in Griesheim are long-term solutions and a common sense approach for the benefit of our children, not short-term solutions and cheap showmanship on the part of politicians.”

Professor Bernhard Meyer praises the steadfast commitment with which this goal was pursued: “within just three years, the town of Griesheim achieved something that every German town can manage. The necessary knowledge can be acquired by reading the relevant specialist literature.”
In the end, the playable town cost 104,000.00 euros, of which 16,000.00 euros came from taxpayers. The rest was sponsored, inter alia by the Flughafen Stiftung (Rhein Main) (Rhine-Main Airport Foundation) and the Savings Bank Foundation.

The sittable town

“We have implemented the playable town because of the “islandisation” of children’s play spaces, which increasingly required parents to provide “free taxi services” for their kids. Now children can again play their way through the town on foot. We will implement the sittable town as there are pedestrians who, after walking a short distance only, need an opportunity to recharge their batteries and regain their strength to be able to continue walking,” says Prof. Bernhard Meyer. After the concept of the playable town had been implemented in Griesheim, attention was focused on pedestrians. Those who are not able to walk long distances because of illness, disabilities or their age or who find it difficult to wait. It was noticed that play objects installed in the streets were used by pedestrians to have a rest.

Senior citizens who are out and about have two different needs: To meet other people and participate in public life. To rest for a while and regain their strength before they continue their walk. For the former, places are suitable that are on the one hand sheltered and on the other hand provide interesting views. In this case benches for rest and relaxation should be installed. For the latter, rather short-time seating is required. Even children’s play objects can partly serve this purpose. However, also additional seating needs to be provided.

160 sittable spots have been located in Griesheim. The findings are compared with existing bench locations, with play objects. In addition, the streets and squares are examined for redesign options. Finally, short-time seating products will be developed as there are no prototypes available in the market. The public space will be redesigned by adding appropriate seating furniture. Afterwards, an evaluation by the citizens of Griesheim will take place.

As a result, pedestrians in Griesheim will find streets that meet their needs. More stimuli and incentives are offered to children, whereas the elderly and disabled will find it easier and safer to go for a walk. Hailed shared taxis, as a flexible transport system, help to cover greater distances. Within walking distance, short-time seating objects enable pedestrians who feel fatigued and exhausted to rest for a while and recover. Appropriately positioned benches can serve as meeting points. “In my opinion, the concept of “senior citizens’ play” does not work in our society,” Prof. Meyer is convinced. “We need “parking space” for people. A positive sign in public space indicating that you are welcome and wanted here.”


Socio-scientific support services
(Senior citizen involvement) 03,000€
Acquisition of objects 30,000€
Installation of objects 10,000€
Mapping and inspection 02,000€
Documentation 02,000€
Design and printing cost 04,000€ 51,000€

Evangelische Fachhochschule
(Protestant University of Applied Sciences) 02,000€
Municipality of Griesheim 15,000€
Flughafenstiftung (Airport Foundation) 34,000€ 51,000€

Taking a playful approach, the town of Griesheim is well on the way to becoming the first sittable town in Germany too.

Photos: Stadt Griesheim

Recommended reading:
Bernhard Meyer: Die bespielbare Stadt. Die Rückeroberung des öffentlichen Raumes. Shaker Verlag GmbH, ISBN 978-3-8322-8426-8

Norbert Leber, Mayor of Griesheim:
“An essential prerequisite for the implementation of the “playable town” (as well as for the entire development) was that the heads of administration (ranging from the mayor to the head of the municipal public order office, the head of the social security office and the head of the municipal workshop) were positive about the measures in order to implement these resolutely and syste¬matically. Some town councillors were quite sceptical and tried to bring their influence to bear, for example with regard to the location of the individual play objects. In the end, this wouldn’t have produced a comprehensive success as the locations of the play equipment would have been under constant political discussion. Against this background, we proceeded as follows: The municipal public order office inspected and tested the particular sites for their public safety in advance and then identified the sites suggested by children as potential locations for the installation of play equipment (more than 100 in the entire municipal area) as suitable or unsuitable. Afterwards, the equipment was installed relatively quickly by the municipal workshop. Also here, we met with public resistance and scepticism. Some people had no sympathy for individual play objects, seating objects, etc. suddenly being installed on the pavement outside their property or nearby. After some time, however, the scepticism subsided and the people of Griesheim began to take a certain amount of pride in our town being the first playable town in Germany.

The persons acting on behalf of the municipality were positive about the project from the outset and therefore systematically, quickly and comprehensively put it into practice. They quickly implemented the project even despite opposition and objections, which, in my opinion, was the prerequisite for the implementation of the entire project. Otherwise, the project would certainly have been deadlocked by endless debates over locations and the whole purpose of individual play objects and would never have got off the starting blocks. Therefore both a convinced and convincing mayor and administration as well as a good municipal workshop like the one that we have in Griesheim are required.

The total funds of 104,000 euros were mainly raised through sponsorship. A large part of the money was granted by the Flughafenstiftung Rhein-Main (Rhine-Main Airport Foundation), the HSE Foundation as well as the Sparkasse Darmstadt (Darmstadt Savings Bank). The municipality of Griesheim itself provided 14,000 euros, whereas the Protestant University of Applied Sciences of Darmstadt contributed about 2,000 euros through employment of staff and support. The project thus stayed within manageable limits, was mainly funded by sponsors, partly also through price concessions made by the manufacturers, and is now completed.

Finally, I would like to point out the following: In my opinion, such a project is not feasible without chief administrators who are able to assert themselves in the face of opposition, champion such a project and put it into practice as quickly as possible without getting bogged down.”

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