A new UK Government took office on 11 May and is in the process of deciding its position on a number of policies and government strategies . As a result the content of this page may not reflect current Government policy. All statutory guidance and legislation referred to continues to reflect the current legal position unless indicated otherwise.

The design and landscaping of public spaces is central to whether they appeal to children.

Play England and the previous governemnt produced Design for Play, which includes a set of design principles to support the design of successful play spaces. These principles may also be useful when applied to wider areas of design in the public realm.

Considering children’s need to play when designing aspects of the built environment can result in improvements including:

  • creating home zones and 20mph speed limits on residential streets
  • incorporating cycle and pedestrian routes to play areas
  • making places feel safer by improving lighting and sight lines
  • incorporating playful design elements, for example, hopscotch tiling in pavement design.

The golden rule in designing a successful play space is that it is a place in its own right, specially designed for its location, in such a way as to provide as much play value as possible.

Successful play spaces:

  • are ‘bespoke’ – designed to enhance their particular setting
  • are well located – in the best possible place for children
  • make use of natural elements
  • provide a wide range of play experiences
  • are accessible to both disabled and non-disabled children
  • meet community needs
  • allow children of different ages to play together
  • build-in opportunities to experience risk and challenge
  • are sustainable and appropriately maintained
  • allow for change and evolution

In order to effectively meet the needs of the community, wherever possible designers should consult with children and families to find out what they want from public spaces, what is preventing them from playing and socialising, and where playable space is most needed.

An important part of the design process is weighing up issues of safety and risk in the design of public space. While children should not be exposed to unacceptable dangers, it is important to allow them opportunities to experience adventurous play opportunities where they can challenge themselves and develop their abilities.

The Manual for Streets, produced by the Department for Transport and Department for Communities and Local Government, provides extensive advice on street design. It starts from the premise that streets should be places where people want to live and spend time, rather than simply corridors for transport. Making streets more appealing for children will involve considering the design and layout of:

  • planting
  • street furniture
  • signage
  • parking
  • cycle routes and pathways
  • lighting
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