The Importance of the Informal Playground

Unstructured play is a mainstay of childhood. But dense urban areas offer fewer opportunities for free-form playtime, writes Alex Marshall. Kids have to take what they can get, and often it's not much more than an empty parking lot.

"[T]here is a difference between a playground and a street corner. For one thing, playgrounds, with their single gate, always-latched entries and jungle gyms with rubber floors, have become cage-like and womb-like in their protectivity of children from both potential intruders and scraped knees. You have to look elsewhere for truly unstructured play.

As luck would have it, my wife and I live in a converted warehouse that has some low-income housing built across from it, fronting on a barren asphalt parking lot. There are children playing in this parking lot often, virtually all of them coming from the low-income housing. These kids, ages two to 15 or so, play in a self-governing universe, without parents. By design or default, unstructured play has become the domain of the less affluent.

Lately we've been throwing our four-and-a-half year old son Max into this universe, with delightful results."

Full Story: Spotlight Vol. 8, No. 14: Playing in The Streets

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