18. Space for sporting and playing in a green environment

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This is the 18th episode of a series 25 building blocks to create better streets, neighbourhoods, and cities. This message is about the limited possibilities for children to play in a green environment because of the sacrifices that are made to offer space for cars and private gardens
Almost all residential areas in the Netherlands offer too little opportunity for children to play. This post deals with this topic and also with changing the classic street pattern to make way for routes for pedestrians and cyclists.
Everything previously mentioned about the value of a green space applies to the living environment. The rule 3 : 30 : 300 is often used as an ideal: Three trees must be visible from every house, the canopy cover of the neighborhood is 30% and within an average distance of 300 meters there is a quarter of a hectare of green space, whether or not divided over a number of smaller parcels.

Functions of 'green' in neighbourhoods

The green space in the living environment must be more than a grass cover. Instead, it creates a park-like environment where people meet, it is accompanied by water features and can store water in case of superfluent rain, it limits the temperature and forms the basis for play areas for children.

Legally, communal, and private green areas are different entities; in practice, hybrid forms are becoming common. For example, a communal (inner) garden that can be closed off in the evening or public green that is cadastral property of the residents but intended for public use. In that case the residents live in a park-like environment which they might maintain and use together. Het Rivierdistrict in Utrecht is an example of this.

Play at the neighborhood level

Children want wide sidewalks and a place (at least 20 x 10 m2) close to home that is suitable for (fantasy) games and where there may also be attractive play equipment. The importance of playground equipment should not be overestimated. For many children, the ideal playground consists of heaps of coarse sand, water, climbing trees and pallets. To the local residents It undoubtedly looks messier than a field full of seesaw chickens. Good playground equipment is of course safe and encourages creative action. They can also be used for more than one purpose. You can climb on it, slide off it, play hide and seek and more. Of the simple devices, (saucer) swings and climbing frames are favorites.
A somewhat larger playground to play football and practice other sports is highly regarded. Such a space attracts many children from the surrounding streets and leads to the children playing with each other in varying combinations.


Most squares are large bare plains, which you prefer to walk around. Every neighborhood should have a square of considerable size as a place where various forms of play and exercise are concentrated. In the middle there is room for a multifunctional space - tastefully tiled or equipped with (artificial) grass - for ball games, events, music performances, markets and possibly movable benches. Ideally, the central part is somewhat lower, so that there is a slope to sit on, climb and slide down. On the edge there is room for countless activities, such as different forms of ball games, a rough part, with climbing trees, meeting places, spaces to hide, space to barbecue and walls to paint, but also catering and one or more terraces. Lighting is desirable in the evening, possibly (coloured) mood lighting. There is an opportunity for unexpected and unforeseen activities, such as a food car that comes by regularly, street musicians that come to visit, changing fairground attractions and a salsa band that comes to rehearse every week.
Such a square can possibly be integrated into a park that, apart from its value as a green space, already offers opportunities for children to play. Adding explicit game elements makes parks even more attractive.

Connecting car-free routes

Safe walking and cycling routes connect playgrounds, parks, and homes. They offer excellent opportunities to use bicycles, especially where they are connected to those of other neighbourhoods.
By seeing facilities for different age groups in conjunction, networks and nodes are created for distinctive target groups. The children's network mainly includes play areas close to home, connected via safe paths to playgrounds in the vicinity. Facilities especially for teenagers are best located somewhat secluded, but not isolated. Essentially, they want to fit in. The teenage network also includes places where there is something to eat, but also various facilities for sports and at a certain age it includes the entire municipality.
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