Quality of cities, the magazine of the RATP group that shows THE CITY DIFFERENTLY.

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Dreaming cities 1/2

When the city becomes a playground

Active design, fun developments: these urban approaches are gradually becoming essential and reintroduce movement, connection and sharing to make cities into more pleasant living spaces.

The concept of active design emerged in the United States in the 1980s with the rise of sedentary lifestyles and their damaging effect on health. As a tactical urban planning tool, it intuitively promotes physical activity by residents through incorporating an incitement to move into the design. Ground markings, agility courses, interactive street furniture, fun works of art and urban via ferrata are all appearing in cities. In France, the redevelopment of Place de la République in Paris in 2013 followed this principle: a reflecting pool, stepping systems and concrete slabs in shades of grey form an accessible space that pedestrians, children and skateboarders can make their own. It is also a question of concentrating places of attraction and making them spaces for multiple uses, facilitating access to them and even ensuring they are attractive to motivate people to take the several paces to get to them.

In Grenoble, the eco-district of Bonne in the south of the city brings together shops, a swimming pool, schools, housing, a hotel and a cultural area around green spaces. Soft connections have been created between the various areas and bike parks at each entrance to the district to encourage cycling. Buildings integrating active design principles play on entrances, volume and light, like the Maritime Youth House in Copenhagen, whose wooden terrace incorporates a 1,600 m2 outdoor play area. Active design is a growing trend in France with the Terre de Jeux 2024 label, initiated in June 2019 and rolled out under the banner of the Olympic Games to urge local authorities to promote and facilitate physical activity for local residents.

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Giving back space for play and making room for children
Aquatic games, fun sculptures and artificial topographical features are gradually taking over our urban landscapes. These facilities offer users the opportunity to be free and creative, and encourage play and interaction. Examples of this are the reflecting pools in Nice and Bordeaux, which both young and old can enjoy at their leisure. The growth in these developments should not, however, mask one of the challenges of the inclusive city: giving space back to children, who are gradually being squeezed out of the urban environment, with the areas accessible to them limited to circumscribed, standardised areas – playgrounds, parks and squares. Long gone are the days when we would see children running around freely and playing improvised games on the pavement!

To combat this urban discrimination, Lille, Rouen, Strasbourg and many other cities are creating totally pedestrianised open areas, establishing free play areas outside schools or widening pavements so children at play can coexist with people out for a leisurely stroll, or those in a hurry to get somewhere. Céline Lecas and Clémentine Delval, founders of Récréations Urbaines (Urban Playgrounds), explain: “Children have this ability to make a plaything out of whatever they find. It we take this perspective into account when re-purposing our public spaces and make them richer and more sensory, we could create places accessible to everyone and promote interaction”. Essentially, we should look at the city through a child’s eyes to make it more inclusive.

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