Places for People - Assessing user needs - Children's play needs in housing areas

© Anne R. Beer, 1997

Solutions - local planning for play


The designer's first priority is to remember that children will play everywhere on the estate, whether or not the various parts and components are specifically designed for children.

However, with this in mind it is possible to consider play in a constructive way. Research has shown that there are patterns to children's behaviour which can be used by the designer to produce a more satisfactory environment for children living on housing estates.


In developing solutions for play provision, standards of play provision in terms of space requirements and lists of equipment should be forgotten. Instead the designer should be concerned with the needs of the particular place and the adults and children that inhabit it.

The approach to each residential area will differ, as it will relate to the surrounding environment as well as to the layout and density of the estate itself.



Ideally play should be planned for at the site planning stage. The decisions about how to provide for children should have as much influence on the final layout as the needs of cars, services and the houses themselves.

On new medium and low-density residential estates, every home that is likely to have children should ideally have some form of safe outdoor space - a garden or paved patio.


In higher density areas with little open space, each home should be within 10m. of a 'gathering' place for doorstep play and informal meetings. Such spaces are equally attractive to adults and children and should be designed with a diversity of forms, which will allow imaginative play by young children. Changes of level, walls, benches, 'nooks and crannies', 'strong' plant material to create edges, can all be utilised by the designer.


Ideally, site planners should ensure that each home is within 200m. of a small equipped play space and within 400m. of a major playground and kickabout area.

Whenever possible a supervised play centre should be within 800m. of all homes and preferably adjacent to a primary school, to allow the development of a full range of community activities.


In the garden you should provide for the following users:

Major users

the child under three

space for the family for drying clothes, sitting, gardening

Minor users

3-6 year olds

adults working in the garden

adults sitting in the sun


Sunny area with childproof fencing, including, where possible, an area overlooking a busy part of the estate.

Part screened for privacy, sunny area, and good soil for gardening.

For very small gardens hedging is normally insufficient for screening purposes; therefore, some small area of fencing of 1.60m. height is required, but this need not surround the whole garden.

Location: with all family houses

Size: Minimum 20 square metres


On the doorstep you should provide for the following users:

Major users

the child under three

3-6 year olds

Minor users

6-10 year olds

10-13 year olds

mothers and to a lesser extent, fathers

the elderly


Public area adjacent to back or front of house or garden overlooked by a main room or window. Sheltered small-scale areas with low wall and balancing rails, rocks, steps, various surface types, plus the occasional play feature such as a small climbing frame when sufficient space between buildings is available.

Sitting areas in sunny sheltered locations with each group of houses, sometimes including tables.


A paved surface within 10m. of every house and garden. This includes the car circulation and parking areas near the house, which should be designed very carefully to emphasise the fact that children have priority there.

One bench or sitting wall within each row of houses, an average of one per seven houses. To be integrated into the overall design from the site planning stage.


In adjacent open areas you should provide for the following users:

Major users

3-6 year olds

Minor users

6-10 year olds

mothers/fathers accompanying children

10-15 year olds


Sand, shelter, enclosure, sunny area, slides, climbs, rocks, and benches.

Benches and seats, tables, shelter from wind.


Within 200m. walking distance of each house, on a major pedestrian route - or other busy area - informal supervision.

More than 20m. from the nearest house.

Wherever the distance criteria allows, the space should be located on the edge of housing estates, rather than amongst the houses.

Size: between 100 sq. m. and 500 sq. m., depending on the number of children.


In nearby parks you should ensure facilities exist for the following users:

Major users

6-10 year olds

Minor users

10-15 year olds

mothers/fathers accompanying children up to 6 years old.


Slides, swings, climbs, and sheltered corners for sitting. Informal, hard surfaced ball games area, ball practice wall.

Use of ball games area and equipment for teenagers. Sitting area for mothers and adults.


Within 400m. walking distance of each house.

On a major pedestrian route, allowing for informal supervision and visual interest.

More than 30m. from the nearest dwelling.

Size: between 100 sq. m. and 1500 sq. m. The area can dual as a play space for those dwellings within 200m. of the playground.


Within walking distance you should ensure that there is somewhere for more adventurous play to take place.

The users will be:

Major users

10-15 year olds

Minor users

6-10 year olds

mothers accompanying children under 6 years old

adults using the ball games area.


Sand-based equipped play areas

climbing, swinging, jumping, digging, construction play and adventurous play.

Formal ball games area

fenced and large enough for five-a-side football.

Sitting areas

Attractive to look at - high quality prestigious environment.


Such spaces can be in local parks, or preferably attached to primary schools. To be fully effective, they need to be associated with play supervision schemes. Where supervision can be arranged, an element of adventure or construction play can be incorporated into the site, but not otherwise.

These can be 'special places' to go to and, therefore, can be further from the home, but safe paths and cycle ways are needed.

Why plan for play

Standards of play provision

What is play?

Designing for play in housing areas

Facilities to support play

Where the child plays

Solutions - local planning for play

Involving the users


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Text and illustrations (unless stated otherwise) © Anne R. Beer, Map21 Ltd, 2001, all rights reserved. Terms of use: Any involved in education or training may copy the contents of these web pages with the proviso that they always make reference to the origial copyright.

© Anne Beer, 2000
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Map21 Ltd

Latest update 19 Dec 2003