Urban Play: How to Design Playgrounds for Inner-City Children

All children — no matter where they live — deserve safe and fun spaces where they can play. Children’s outdoor play is just as important in an inner city as it is in a suburban or rural environment. Children need active play to further their physical, cognitive, emotional, and social development. Plus, time on the playground is one of the best parts of being a kid.

If you’re involved in a neighborhood design initiative for an urban playground, take a moment to learn more about urban play and how to design playgrounds for urban children.

What Is Urban Play?

All children have a right to playtime, and where they live shouldn’t interfere with it. Urban play simply refers to the facilitation of play in urban environments.

In the United States, approximately a third of children live in urban areas. Children who grow up in an inner city often do not have the same access that suburban or rural children have to outdoor spaces right outside their front or back door. This limited access makes it all the more important that communities create public playground facilities where kids can enjoy fresh air and be active.

To better understand and advocate the importance of urban play, a group of researchers recently created the Urban Play Framework, which is comprised of three dimensions needed to promote urban play:

  • Time and choice: Many children today are burdened by busy schedules and distracted by technology. In order for children to play, they first need the opportunity and the agency to choose play.
  • Space and facilities: Children also need safe, accessible places designed to engage them in various types of play. This is where urban playground designs come in.
  • Facilitation: Finally, adults need to help facilitate playtime to support the children in their community. This facilitation includes engaging in guided play in addition to allowing kids to enjoy child-led free play.

Benefits of Urban Playgrounds

Why should urban communities prioritize creating quality playgrounds for children? Playgrounds offer some key benefits to children and their families. Time on the playground can enhance a child’s:

  • Physical development and health: An important benefit for urban children is the way playgrounds promote physical exercise. Opportunities for physical exercise don’t always come as easily to urban children due to space limitations in housing and open outdoor spaces. In a playground, activities like swinging, climbing, and sliding can all contribute to children’s physical health. In addition to general physical fitness, these activities can help kids develop their gross and fine motor skills and sense of coordination.
  • Social skills: Children can also learn valuable social skills on the playground. Children can interact for hours in a classroom or other structured environments, but unstructured time with peers provides a greater opportunity to develop social skills. Kids can learn how to communicate, empathize, and cooperate with each other as they play.
  • Mental and emotional health: Playgrounds can also play an important role in supporting children’s mental health and emotional wellbeing. Time spent on the playground can relieve negative feelings like stress and depression and can boost happiness and self-confidence. Children also get a chance to exercise their imaginations, which is an important part of childhood and a way to build creativity.

Playgrounds also offer some benefits to urban communities more broadly. They can make the city more appealing to visitors, increase foot traffic for local businesses, increase property values, and may even reduce crime.

How to Design Urban Playgrounds for Inner-City Kids

Designing playgrounds for inner-city children should take into account some general best practices for playground design and should focus on children’s specific needs in an urban setting. Let’s take a look at three important tips for designing playgrounds for urban children.

1. Choose a Strategic Location

In large metropolitan areas, approximately 1 in 10 families do not own a vehicle. Instead, many urbanites rely on public transit and getting around on foot or by bicycle. For children in these families, a playground on the other side of the city may be unhelpful. It’s best if families have a playground that is easily accessible — preferably within walking distance of their homes.

When choosing the perfect spot for a playground, consider where the highest number of children would be able to access the playground easily. In some cases, this consideration may mean locating multiple playgrounds throughout a city. An apartment, school, or other entity within a city may also choose to create a playground to serve its own community.

2. Learn What Children Want

With all the logistics that come with designing a playground, it can be easy to lose sight of the big picture. Remember that, first and foremost, playgrounds should be designed for children. So keep children’s needs and desires in mind as you design your playground. Some aspects of this child-centric design approach include:

  • Imagination: You should also think about how the playground environment can serve as a backdrop or provide props for pretend play. Choose fun, colorful equipment that lends itself well to creating exciting imaginary scenarios that transport kids beyond the playground and the city they call home.
  • Variety: Most children enjoy variety when it comes to playtime. Plus, having a variety of equipment types can help children use different muscle systems and develop different skills. Combine different playground components to create a playground that can keep kids interested and excited to return again and again.
  • Safety: Safety is always key and often top of mind for parents. If you asked a child what they wanted most out of a playground, safety might not be on their mind, but it’s essential to making the playground an enjoyable place. Keep safety in mind as you design your layout and choose surfacing and equipment.
  • Inclusivity: Playgrounds should welcome and accommodate all children in the community, including those with atypical physical or cognitive abilities. Design your playground to be accessible and inclusive with layouts and equipment that make it easy for all children to engage.

View Inclusive Play Equipment

3. Take Advantage of Available Tools

Finally, you should take advantage of all the tools at your disposal. You can find design guides online to help you plan your playground. Some of these guides focus on more specific types of playgrounds, so look for a guide that applies to your project. For example, on our blog, you can learn how to design the perfect playground for an apartment complex. You should also consider consulting with experts to help you develop your design or get some feedback on an existing design.

Choose Little Tikes Commercial When Designing Your Urban Playground

At Little Tikes Commercial, we believe that all children deserve access to play spaces that are safe, inclusive, and lots of fun. We’re a trusted source of playground equipment for urban communities. Our dedication to quality, safety, and fun comes through in all of our equipment. Browse our commercial playground equipment online to get some inspiration for your urban playground design. You can also request a quote to get started.