PLAYLINK / Free Play Network
Online Discussion Forum on Creating Better Places for Play
We have now reached the conclusion of the Places for Play discussion
forum. Contributions that were posted on the
discussion forum are still available to view, but the forum
is now closed to new additions.
Taken together, the Places
of Woe: Places of Possibility online exhibition, and the Places
for Play Discussion Forum, have reached a wide audience with
over 150,000 pages downloaded since the launch in early November.
We have also received reports that we are achieving - to some
extent at least - our purpose which is to:
- raise questions about what constitutes a good place for play
- offer a sense of what we think makes a good place for play
- demonstrate that this is not a matter of pipe dreams, but a
reality on the ground where a different way of thinking is taking
The Free Play Network and PLAYLINK are working in complementary
ways to support
change on the ground. As are many of visitors to the web site
and contributors to the discussion forum. But there is much more
to be done.
We would like to thank our team of facilitators for contributing
so much of their time and expertise to this project:
The Discussion Forum
The questions and comments posted to the discussion forum covered
a wide range of relevant issues. They include:
- youth shelters
- disability access
- the value, or otherwise, of fixed equipment playgrounds
- a really useful reference to a book published 15 years ago -
thanks here to Alan Sutton - that articulated a key idea (more
on this below)
- and, please, where can we get some money?
From our perspective, some points can be made:
Can be part of the problem and an obstacle to creating the sort
of places for play shown in the 'Possibility' section of the online
We need to create the conditions that allow people - children,
young people, adults - to become informed decision-makers.
To achieve this, engagement must embrace: showing, exploring, challenging,
learning, and arguing. It is about presenting a point of view, not
simply collecting views. It is certainly not about asking people
simply what they want, or offering a choice from the catalogues
of equipment manufacturers.
Our experience has been that eyes are opened and minds are changed
when engagement is approached as part of a learning
process. This also has a bearing on how Members can come to
appreciate just what is possible.
2. Fixed equipment or something else?
Framing the question this way is starting in the wrong place and
potentially heading in the wrong direction. The aim is to address
the environment as a whole - if a playground, then the site and
its wider context - and to start with
play design principles. These will articulate, for example:
- the central importance of landscaping
- ensuring that access to the elements is part of the 'offer'
- the need to design-in opportunities for users to change and
manipulate the environment
- understanding play space as social space - not simply for 'letting
off steam', but also for quiet sociability and privacy.
It is true that we believe that approached in this way much equipment
becomes simply redundant. But not all equipment. In any case, what
do we mean by equipment? Doesn't the Darnley
Park play space have equipment?
3. Liability, negligence, fear of litigation.
A major inhibitor to creating good play spaces is the development
of defensive practice that starts from the position that the first
job of play providers is to reduce the possibility of negligence
claims. This is rarely overtly acknowledged in the terms given here.
Where such a practice - it is perhaps an expression of a particular
culture - has taken hold, providing for play becomes the 'displaced
objective'. The rhetoric of providing play opportunities then masks
a self-imposed, self-limiting, 'safety-first', watch-my-back practice.
To a significant degree, concerns about negligence claims are based
on misconceptions. There is more on this, including authoritative
legal opinion, on the PLAYLINK webpages on Negligence,
play and risk - legal opinion
4. Maintenance and vandalism.
There is almost certainly a relationship between vandalism and
maintenance levels. This is not to argue for a simple, straight
line correlation between low maintenance and high vandalism levels,
but simply to notice that adequate maintenance is one expression
of the value we attach to our public places; low maintenance signifying,
perhaps, a lack of respect for what we claim to value.
In the discussion forum, the vexed issue of vandalism inevitably
came to the fore. But there's a question here, as there is for all
such 'catch-all' categories: just what is the range of behaviour,
and its consequences, that the term 'vandalism' attempts to capture?
It's not unlike that other catch-all, 'anti-social behaviour': what
is the range of behaviour embraced by the term?
Vandalism and anti-social behaviour are realities, of course. And
prompt fear and unease in that other catch-all - 'communities'.
Nothing is gained, however, either in terms of analysis or potential
remedy, by using with unthinking elasticity terms that call out
for some precision and a sense of the context within which they
A forthcoming PLAYLINK Procurement Survey finds that some 70% of
respondents thought their maintenance budgets inadequate. Please
join our contact lists if you want
notification of publication.
email: info at playlink.org.uk
19 December 2006
View the Discussion Forum.