The Public Value of Child-Friendly Space: Reconceptualising the Playground

Alkistis Pitsikali, Rosie Parnell, Lesley McIntyre

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

5 Citations (Scopus)
64 Downloads (Pure)


The playground is a commonly advised means to integrate children into the public realm of “child-friendly cities”, yet research has tended not to examine it in relation to adjacent public space. This paper aims to understand the extent to which the playground – a socio-spatial phenomenon – facilitates children's integration into the public realm, enabling critical examination of the “child-friendly space” concept.

An ethnographic study was carried out across three sites in Athens, Greece, where typical neighbourhood playgrounds replicate features common across the global north. Methods combined observation (167 h; morning, afternoon, evening), visual-mapping and 61 semi-structured interviews with 112 playground users (including adults and children from the playgrounds and surroundings). Rigorous qualitative thematic analysis, involving an iterative post-coding process, allowed identification of spatial patterns and emergent themes.

Findings reveal perceptions surrounding the protective and age-specific aspects of child-friendly design, limit the playgrounds' public value. However, a paradox emerges whereby the playgrounds' adjacency to public spaces designed without child-friendly principles affords children's engagement with the public realm.

Research limitations/implications
Reconceptualisation of the “child-friendly playground” is proposed, embracing interdependence with the public realm – highly significant for child-friendly urban design theory and practice globally. Researchers are encouraged to compare findings in other geographical contexts.

This original finding is enabled by the novel approach to studying the playground in relation to adjacent public realm. The study also offers the first empirical examination of child-friendly city principles – participation in social life and urban play – in a Greek context, addressing a geographical gap in literature on children's everyday spaces.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)149-165
Number of pages17
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - 16 Mar 2020


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