Playing outdoors: What do children do, where and with whom?

There is an increasing interest in outdoor play, both in research and in policy. However, in (re)designing, planning and managing the public space, there is still limited attention for children’s actual playing behavior. A lot of urban planning decisions are based on adults’ perceptions of children’s playing behavior and focus on formal play spaces, rather than on their actual behavior and on other, more informal, play places children might also use. Therefore, the purpose of this study was to explore where children play outdoors, with whom and what kind of activities they are performing there. Between February 2022 and March 2023 1,127 – mainly primary school - children were systematically observed after school in three post-war residential districts in three cities in The Netherlands. The majority of the children were between 5-8 years old (50%). Above the age of 8 years, substantially more boys (70%) than girls (30%) were playing outdoors. Most of the children (79%) were playing wit

Children’s geographies
The book ‘Children's geographies’ gives insights into the contemporary sociological understandings of children’s competence as social actors and how they reconfigure their living environment in their own favour. It illustrates children’s knowledge of the geographic environment and contribute to debates about spatiality in the social studies of childhood. In this article a summary of this interesting academic book.A few decades ago there was almost no geography research on children. Of cours…

My daughter and me
When my daughter was born eleven years ago, many new worlds opened for me. In addition to the world of diapers and sleepless nights, my use and perception of public space changed. The width of the sidewalk and loose paving stones suddenly became important. First through my walks with the pram and a few years later when my daughter stumbled down the street (on foot or by bicycle). In her early years the walk to the local supermarket was a great adventure, because everything was interesting to he…

Public space: notes on the why, what and how
The book Public Space shows the diversity, functions, challenges and opposing interests within the physical manifestation of the public realm. It’s a bundle of thoughts and short notes about all its facets as a space, place, site, network and arena. The book provides a nice overview and update of the current state of public spaces. More in-depth analyzes and practical solutions would have been welcome.

Play-friendly cities: first results
Fortunately, more and more municipalities are working on play-friendly public spaces. However, many policy visions and investments are still based on assumptions made by municipal officials or suppliers of play equipment. This is partly because good evaluations and effect measurements of existing and new play spaces are scarce, especially where informal play spaces are concerned. And when children are involved, they are often asked about their theoretical wishes rather than their concrete actio…

Girls and outdoor play: looking for more equality and equity
How public is the public space? Less than we often think. Children have their own protected areas – we call them playgrounds - where they are separated from adults. If you look further, you also see a spatial segregation between boys and girls. Girls play at different spots and play differently than boys. And also important: girls play outside less frequently. What are the underlying causes of this and how can we solve this? 

Urban playground: a review
What type of cities do we want our children to grow up in? Car-dominated, noisy, and devoid of nature? Or walkable, playable and green? The answer to this question will be clear. The book 'Urban playground' looks for ways in which you can achieve the latter by describing different projects, principles and tools. 

Playing outside: who, where and what?
Fortunately, more and more attention is being paid to a play-friendly public space in both research and policy. Yet there is still little insight into very basic questions. For example, do boys play more outside than girls? Where do children play? And what are they doing there? New research answers these questions.

The child in the city: an extensive summary
In 1978 Colin Ward wrote the widely read and much quoted book 'The Child in the City'. The book is an attempt to explore the relationship between children and their urban environment. It asks whether it is true that something has been lost in this relationship and speculates about the ways in which the link between city and child can be made more fruitful and enjoyable. More than forty years after its publication, we pick up the book and look for similarities and differences with the cu…

København: new city life
Copenhagen is considered to be one of Europe's leading cities in regards to quality of life and sustainability. Over the past couple of years a range of public buildings and spaces, infrastructure and entire quarters have been developed whose architecture and urban planning are in many aspects inspirational and exemplary. A new book about these projects was recently published.

Designing child-friendly streets
Children spend only half as much time playing outside as their parents did.There are several reasons for this. The way we have organized our cities is one of them. How to turn this tide? How do you design streets that are child-friendly? What are the do's and don'ts? The publication Designing Streets for Kids provides various tools for this. In this article a summary and review.
Play is an important human right, as indicated in the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child. This states th…

Soft City: building density for everyday life
Due to their increasing popularity cities are under pressure. To accommodate the influx of people, more and more buildings are being built in higher densities. The challenge is to keep these cities liveble, inclusive and sustainable. In his book Soft City David Sim gives numerous tips and examples for this challenge. He shows that higher densities and quality of life can go hand in hand. It's just a matter of people-friendly architecture and city planning.

Bicycle urbanism: know the ropes
Recently the Island Press released two books about bicycle urbanism. Two informative books that provide insight into the myths and advantages of this active means of transport. The focus is on the pioneering work in the Netherlands and Denmark and the struggle with the modal shift in North America. This review list some of the most important lessons.

Happy City from a Dutch perspective
Dear Mister Montgomery,
My name is Gerben Helleman and I'm an urban geographer from The Netherlands. This summer I finally had the time to read your book 'Happy City'. Admittedly, a bit late, but my jobs, blog and six years old daughter kept me 'occupied'.

I really enjoyed reading your book. It is a great summary of all the movements in the last decades in urbanism, architecture, planning and design. With all the inspiring things you read on social media and websites abou…

Playable cities: Why?
When we think about child-friendly public spaces, we usually start with the wrong questions. We tend to focus on the question which playing attributes we should add to existing playgrounds, but we should start at the other end of the spectrum with the question: what is our ultimate goal? In short, the purpose is to stimulate outside playing for children, because it improves their health, it enriches different skills and most of all it gives them pleasure.

Playable cities: a model and a toolkit
Children's daily lives are affected mostly by decisions made by parents, teachers and urban planners. Together they influence where, how and how long children play. In recent years, children's outdoor play has declined. For health and pedagogical reasons, it is important that we stimulate outdoor playing. To realize this we need a new approach on public spaces for kids. This approach doesn't start with picking some elements from catalogues of play equipment companies or landscape a…

Playable cities: How?
In the previous chapter we learned WHY it is important to make child friendly cities. Now we can use these reasons to identity the conditions to realize playable cities. Based on an extensive literature study I come to ten main criteria. Principal factors that influence where, how and how long children play. Ingredients for policies, design and programs to stimulate outdoor activities. The principles that differentiate 'normal' cities from playable cities and that make a place work.

Playable cities: What?
Now that we know the reasons (WHY) and conditions (HOW) for playable cities we can zoom in on the specific actions that we can undertake to create vibrant places. The underlying goals and criteria for child-friendly spaces help us to remember that we have to operate on multiple levels. In this chapter you will find a lot of actions and efforts that can make a difference if you want to create safe, entertaining and enriching learning spaces for kids.

Playable cities: sources
The model and the chapters for 'Playable cities' are based on an extensive desk research of international literature and websites about public spaces (for kids). Using the work of for example, Mikael Colville-Andersen, Jan Gehl (Making Cities for People; Gehl Institute), Tim Gill, Jane Jacobs, Kaboom!, Kevin Lynch, Project for Public Spaces (PPS), The Bernard van Leer Foundation (Urban95), The City at Eyelevel, and William H. Whyte. But also using the results from scientific research…

The Open City
Nowadays we make cities to much as a closed system: segregated, regimented, and controlled. Instead of this 'Closed City' we need an 'Open City' where citizens actively hash out their differences and planners experiment with urban forms that make it easier for residents to cope. This is the main message of urban sociologist Richard Sennett in his new book 'Building and Dwelling' that came out last month. Yesterday he gave an inspiring lecture at the Rotterdam Academy of …

Placemaking week 2017: the highlights
It felt like a kid in a candy story. So much inspiration during Placemaking Week 2017 in Amsterdam. With more than 400 attendees from 46 countries the key conditions were fulfilled. Besides the wonderful opening speech of Fred Kent ("We have to turn everything upside down, to get it right side up") and a lot of other interesting presentations and discussions these are my favorite candies.

Playable cities
Well-designed and well-maintained public spaces stimulate social encounters, physical exercise, a sense of community, cultural and economic development. Also for children public spaces are of great importance. Playing outside improves their health, enriches social skills (sharing, collaborate) and puts their brains at work (cognitive development). But how to make a playable city? There are a lot of checklist with do's and don'ts that can guide you. But the most important things for play…

How to make inviting and attractive public spaces? A top 10.
Public spaces come in many different sizes, shapes and forms. Squares, parks, playgrounds, shopping and residential streets, all belong to the outdoor space. They can be found in inner cities and beyond. They can be both big and small. Despite this diversity, there are a number of factors that determine whether a public space attracts or rejects people. In this article, a top 10 - in random order - of items that can serve as a checklist for the realization of an inviting, lively and attr…

Governing Urban Diversity
In the last decades cities have become more diverse than ever before. Individuals who at first sight appear to belong to a fixed group may show different attitudes and behaviours. They may live in the same neighbourhood, but lead very different lives and have access to different opportunities. A European research team examined how cities can deal with and benefit from this diversity.

Privately Owned Public Spaces: curse or blessing?
Last week I saw some interesting information at the International Architecture Biennale Rotterdam (IABR) about the so-called  Privately Owned Publicly-Accessible Spaces (POPS). POPS are a specific type of open space which the public is welcome to enjoy, but remain privately owned and maintained. What are the pros and cons of these POPS?

Small is beautiful
In order to increase the quality of life in cities, it is not necessary to make major investments or interventions. During the past years unloved spaces in London were transformed into ‘Pocket Parks’ – tennis court sized green retreats for local neighbourhoods to enjoy.

Urban Agriculture
Urban agriculture is hot and happening. Underlined by the opening today of 'De Schilde', Europe’s largest urban rooftop farm. This unique farm stands at 40 meters high, and will grow 50 tons of local rooftop vegetables and 20 tons fresh fish all year round. Taking urban agriculture to a new level.

Toronto Tower Renewal
Toronto, the city of towers, is facing a major challenge as 1.200 high-rise residential concrete frame buildings are approaching the end of their effective service life. In the so-called Tower Renewal Program different parties are trying to improve  the quality and  the energy efficiency of these high-rise buildings. It will also - indirect - generate social, economic and cultural benefits by creating local green jobs, increasing small-scale retail, and upgrading green space. I spoke with Graem…

Arrival cities: the need for precision
In the winter of 2015 the City Builder Book Club, an online book club about cities, is reading Doug Saunders’ award-winning best-seller Arrival City: How the Largest Migration in History Is Reshaping Our World. An interesting book about migration to urban centers around the globe with illuminations on all sorts of paths, policies, and people. I was invited to contribute a short response on chapter 10 ('Arriving in style') about migrant neighborhoods in the Netherlands (Amsterdam), Bangl…

Pop-up City; city-making in a fluid world
After the success of the blog, this summer the book arrived: Pop-Up City. A city where existing urban planning frameworks and architectural landscapes do not hinder spontaneous human activity, but rather serve as an encouraging platform for innovative, inspirational and time-bound activities. In the book a diverse collection of these temporary initiatives pass by. Ranging from funny ideas to interesting improvements to the urban landscape.

We Own The City
Last week the book ‘We Own The City’ was launched in Amsterdam. The book is about the rise of community planning. It focus on the way traditional top-down players are employing to enable and support bottom-up initiatives in cities. The result is a book with descriptions of inspiring urban development processes around the world.