The city as a playground: for whom?
In recent years, European city planners have tried to reach many groups lacking a strong voice in public space design. Still, one of these groups has been visibly under-consulted and neglected in the current urban landscape: children. In Barcelona, this gap is visible in the spaces designed for kids, which are limited to a few standard-issue, fenced playgrounds. There is little to explore, discover or create.
Team Barcelona’s challenge: to collect and share children’s perspectives about their city and make this information available for urban planners.
We consider children to be unbiased and alert perceivers of urban issues whose voice should be heard.
Team Barcelona designed a project to explore how children experience public space and what they need. They started at a school in the district of Sant Martí in Barcelona, building into the curriculum discussions of topics like: what conditions make us feel invited to play? What does coexistence mean and how do we practice it?
Team Barcelona used interactive methods to better understand the children’s experience, beginning with creating a large map of the neighborhood marking signiﬁcant sites for the children. The children explored and reflected on the neighborhood – conducting interviews, taking photos and making audio recordings. The children also experienced the space bodily through the Performative Spacing method, which uses the body as a narrative tool. Building human chains and sculptures to measure a space and taking unusual positions – such as laying down on the ground or in a circle to alter experience of space – the children gained new insight into the feel of the place.
The children perceived an experiential relationship between their bodies, their emotions and the environment. They had fun and could remember the project’s content better.
The workshops made the children more aware and observant about their socio-urban context. The project also made the children feel more empowered — that they can influence developments in their city. Team Barcelona built an online platform to create a virtual community where children (and their parents and teachers) could share their ideas with planning and design professionals and their political representatives. Together, the children staged an intervention in a vacant space near their school – marking it with red balloons – writing a letter to the mayor of the district and starting a petition to be allowed to reuse the space.
The Sant Martí school also learned that it could be an active part of negotiations concerning the urban space in its vicinity. And the local municipality learned that children’s demands do not fit with other patterns of use. Including children’s points of view can add something to the development process – Team Barcelona has illustrated the tools for how their voices can be engaged.