The Child in the City’s Play Space: Creating and Sustaining Child-Friendly Public Domains
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From its spectacular origins as the host site for World Expo 88, South Bank in Brisbane, Australia has been redeveloped as an inner-city precinct that is highly attractive to families and children. Unlike its theme park rivals with their highly contrived and commercialized play environments, South Bank's success - with more than 11 million visitors annually - stems from its deliberative effort in creating and managing a public domain that is not only free but highly adaptive in the play, leisure and learning experiences it offers. Referencing the South Bank exemplar, this paper examines the current disconnect between the planning and design of Australian cities and their public spaces in providing environments that not only welcome children but also establish social and psychological connections that stimulate learning and ultimately civic participation. Too easily, the public environment of many Australian cities uncritically fails to consider the child's experience of place and the critical opportunity that experience offers to shape an understanding of how children exercise their democratic rights and in turn accept their responsibilities as future citizens. The rich diversity of children's experiences across the South Bank precinct, ranging from physical recreational participation to active involvement in the arts, are critically examined to assess how children's right to play and to participate in large public spaces are not only creatively generated but also sustained. South Bank conclusively demonstrates that children can experience and establish genuine connection with natural environments in the inner-city, a connection that does not necessarily need to be confined to highly regulated botanical gardens or sterile green spaces. The paper will however, also assert that a key reason for the success of children's connection with South Bank is the facility's provision of security mechanisms and technology that ensure safety for children and families. Popularly seen as a critical inhibitor of children's rights to play and participate, security and risk management procedures will be highlighted with particular reference to child safety incidents in the South Bank Parklands and how these have been effectively managed. The paper will also draw on relevant preliminary research commissioned by the Place Leaders' Association on benchmarking different public domains and other research conducted by the Urban Research Program Griffith University, on place-based indicators of child-friendly communities.
4th Healthy Cities: Making Cities Liveable Conference
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