Children and public spacePlaytime Latest

14/05/2013 – Children and public space

How welcoming does the big outdoors seem for children? The sign in this wooded area would put anyone off going in to play. It gives the distinct impression that anyone who enters is in danger of falling to a grim death. It does seem a bit cartoon-like and amusing to an adults eyes, but a child might not feel the same way.  Adult and child perceptions are of course quite different and we interpret the world around us from a very different perspective. Perhaps we need to think a bit more deeply about what they see around them and what sort of messages they pick up from the public realm.

Signage weighed down with rules and regulations at public parks and playgrounds such as this one I posted on my Instagram account does not seem to be designed to encourage free play. Of course drinking and abusive language are not on around children as the sign suggests, but something a bit more positive than a list of ‘do nots’ at a park entrance would be more welcoming.  Their lives are increasingly constrained by demanding daily routines and they are hemmed in by worries about traffic and stranger danger.  Parks and playgrounds are intended to make up for the loss of freedom, but a long list of rules can be inhibiting for them.

The condition of public space is another concern. Dublin City, for example, has a particularly disgusting litter problem. Refuse sacks heaped together on foot paths over flowing with rank waste are becoming common place. Children walk passed this mess daily on their way to and from school, or on their way to play. Dog dirt is left in piles strewn across these same paths leaving children to try and pick their way through.  The evidence of my own doctoral research indicates that they find it quite upsetting. Commonsense suggests dirty pathways are not very welcoming, and in fact can be unhealthy for children.

Narrow footpaths are difficult for children and parents with buggies to navigate.  A lack of pedestrian crossings makes walking through public space feel unsafe.  Children’s sense of smell or hearing can be more sensitive than an adults and loud sounds and bad smells are unsettling. 
On the other hand, children also experience more positive aspects of the public domain which could be exploited to enhance their – and our – outdoor environments.

How children experience the public realm they walk through will be addressed this coming Thursday May 16th when Playtime will facilitate a walk through Galway City to explore the childhood landscape of the city.  The walk is followed by a discussion and a re-mapping of the route from the perspective of the child. It is taking place as part of the Art and Geography Ireland/Galway Dance Days event taking place between May 16th and May 18th. Places can be booked for the walk or any of the various events by emailing .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address).