Interview with Petra Stocker, Pro Juventute, Play Space and Playing Culture Programme Manager, Play Festival Project Management
The aim of the Pro Juventute Play Festival 2018 is to support the development of cities of play and to help to further develop discussion of the role of play in urban development processes. In addition to the conference on the topic of “Playable Cities”, a Play Event will take place to mark World Play Day.
Pro Juventute is organising a play festival in Biel on 25 and 26 May. What will it involve?
It will actually be two events in one. We are organising a conference on the subject of “Playable Cities”. Experts from architecture, spatial planning, landscape architecture, social work, play space design, and art and design will discuss the potential of play on towns and cities as a place to live and, on the other hand, will discuss the design, use and importance of play spaces for a town or city. The conference offers more than 30 in-depth topics and practical examples such as, for example, planning play spaces and places to live, play as a catalyst for district development processes, architecture and playful building sites, playful access to creative technologies in public spaces, etc., and will take place in French, German and English. We are looking forward to promoting professional discourse and exchanges on the topic of playable cities beyond the linguistic regions.
And, of course, we will be playing as well. After all, it is World Play Day on 26 May. We will be creating what we believe will be an ideal play space on the Esplanade fairground in Biel, which will run in parallel to the conference: an exciting place which can be shaped and modified, a Robinson playground or adventure playground of the future, or simply: a “playable city”.
Why is such an event necessary?
There are various trends which are driving play and play spaces out of the cities. We know from studies that, nowadays, children in Switzerland only spend 29 minutes a day playing outdoors independently and without supervision. One of the reasons for this is the reduction in open spaces. Designing the remaining open spaces is becoming an increasingly important topic. Outdoor spaces are being claimed by many different interests and uses. Children’s right to play must not be at the back of the queue – on the contrary! We would like to remove play from the recesses of the playground and place it front and centre, make the city playable. Not only is playing a foundation for child development, but in those places where play is possible, there is also an opportunity for local recreation and exercise and to meet others – even in the most urban environments. Places where children can move freely and which they can shape and modify have a positive impact on a city as a whole. In addition, play has enormous potential to set processes of change in motion, so that spaces can be transformed from non-places into attractive places. This subject is given far too little consideration in our society and in current professional discourse, and it is this that we would like to change with the play festival.
Is this subject new to Pro Juventute?
No. Pro Juventute’s involvement in the subject of play and play spaces started approximately 80 years ago. The success of the Robinson playgrounds in Switzerland is thanks to Pro Juventute’s involvement. “Normal” playgrounds were also designed against the backdrop of encouraging free play. Up to 2005, Pro Juventute even imparted this know-how in the form of playground consultancy. The community centres in the Zurich region were also originally launched by Pro Juventute. The community centres, which were partly created as Robinson playgrounds, are good examples of play spaces which have become meeting places for the district. The play conference also takes up this idea of the playable city as a meeting space. Open spaces and play spaces for children are significant for society as a whole.
Would Pro Juventute like to revive this tradition?
Yes. However, the requirements today are very different to those of 40 years ago. There are far fewer open spaces and more and more people in the cities. In line with the trend towards increasing urbanisation, cities will become the most central places where the next generations of children will grow up. Pro Juventute is committed to ensuring that children’s right to play is not forgotten in this development. In order to prepare themselves for the future, cities must be designed, and allow themselves to be designed, to be child-friendly and play-friendly. There exists a close relationship between the play-friendly design of urban spaces and the objectives of the cities to support an active, healthy and sustainable community. A city in which children can play and move independently is also a place where older people feel safe. A city where children can play freely – including beyond the playground – is a place with a high quality of life for all ages.
How does the play conference hope to influence this?
The use of open spaces and play spaces in our towns and cities and the deliberate interdisciplinary examination of this represent an important issue. The understanding of the importance of play must also be debated. Ultimately, the conference will tackle the question of how communal life in our towns and cities should be shaped, and whether play could be used as a method to bring about real change. To this end, the play conference will bring together stakeholders from different disciplines – for example, sociocultural, architectural and spatial and urban planning experts. They can learn a great deal from each other. Architects and urban planners can benefit from the knowledge of the proponents of action-based education when it comes to designing participation processes. Conversely, sociocultural experts, for example, should be able to assist with spatial planning processes.
And what is specifically required to make our towns and cities more play-friendly again?
Children’s needs should be firmly integrated into the spatial planning processes. This is not the case today. And courage is needed to leave gaps, namely less rigidity in the planning and design of areas, so that these can still be shaped and allow a variety of uses. Children must be able to change things and integrate them into their play. This also requires non-specific equipment, not just play equipment which can only be used in one way. This has positive effects on communal life in a district and a city, as a whole. And this is becoming increasingly important, because the quality of life of the urban population, particularly of the children, will determine our future.
Petra Stocker is the manager of the Play Space and Playing Culture Programme with the Pro Juventute foundation. She is a qualified sociocultural animator (facilitator and coordinator).