What makes a good children's play space? Penny Wilson from Play Association Tower Hamlets explores this important question in the inaugural issue of Routledge's International Journal of Play.
She discovers a world of difference between the 'play memories' of older residents of the East End of London -- who recall wandering freely, playing in the spaces between homes, shops and parks -- and the experiences of today's children, forced into rigid, over-designed and artificial play spaces.
In today's East End, the creation of the Olympic Park, like most urban development, has reduced space for children to play. In the same way that each hour of our day in modern life is driven by a need to be productive and our achievements measurable, these open spaces are taken away from children so that their physical world is also separated for precise purposes only. In contrast, their parents and grandparents would have roamed around the area, playing together for hours on end, thriving in unidentified and in-between spaces. 'Parents did not seem to know or very much mind where their children were at any particular time,' she writes. But 'what has changed today is the standards by which we judge good parenting.'
Wilson describes how the design of her Association's Mile End Park aims to give the children of Tower Hamlets a little bit of that open space back, 'blurring the urban and rural playing of children' by the use of woodlands, paths, mirrors, branches and manufactured artefacts 'to rewrite the permissiveness of the park as a playable space'. She believes that 'we will make no difference to the impoverished state of play within our societies until we revisit our ways of perceiving the world.' Perhaps this is the most important Olympic Legacy of all for the children of Tower Hamlets, and the rest of the United Kingdom.
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