A couple of weeks ago we went walking through our patch, coming across a little playground, marked out with fixed equipment and brightly coloured safety surface.  It was fenced in, central to the estate and reached by sets of staggered pathways.

It wasn’t terrible.  Lots of fixed equipment which we’re not particularly disposed towards, and someone had been training their dog on the rubber seats and wooden benches, but there are lush plantings around the edge and some thought had been given to the demarcation of spaces.  The housing estate made for a pleasing courtyard effect and most importantly it was clearly a part of the public realm set aside for play.  The opening hours were clearly signposted and we were there when it was supposed to be unlocked.  Only one problem.

It wasn’t.

The anti-climb paint and padlocked gate turned the playspace into a fortress – and in prime midweek afterschool hours too.  The sign also had a number to ring in case of emergency, so I rang it.  The call was not free, and once I’d waited through interminable automated messages, it wasn’t answered either.

As the phone rang and rang in the presumably empty room at the other end, I grew more and more angry.  The question of whether or not playspaces should be fenced is an old one.  We tend to fall on the side of gates and fences for a number of reasons – to increase inclusivity by making provision for children with disabilities who can be considered ‘flight risks’, to separate the space for those exercizing their pets and to state clearly that this place is different from others, that this place is for children’s play.

Implied in this argument, however, are two points:

  • That specified provision such as playgrounds are not to be viewed as the ‘only’ places where play is appropriate, but instead located in a considered and playable public realm.
  • That these gates are opened so that children can come in!

On a far happier note, however, the amazing weather we’ve been having has supplied the whole city with high value natural play material – snow!  With traffic at a standstill and schools and offices closed, people emptied out into the streets and the parks to build, fight, scuffle and explore.  Adults and children played out together, as the ‘adverse weather conditions’ for daily routines proved to be the perfect weather conditions for play.