Category Archives: parks

Here we go again: No Risk, No Play

I’d forgotten, it was some time ago, but a series of tweets I saw reminded me that I had responded to an invitation to write an article for LA+ Interdisciplinary Journal of Landscape Architecture, published by the University of Pennsylvania School of Design. They wanted an article about – you guessed it! – ‘Risk and Play’. 

Truth be told,  I find it increasingly difficult to write anything on the subject, this because I find myself in a seemingly perpetual cycle of repetition such that anything I write on the subject feels over-worked, over-used.    No matter, I accepted the invitation in a spirit of self-entrapment – by committing myself, stuff would need to be written.  

The article below is as it appears in the journal save that I have reinserted twenty two words which, for whatever reason, did not make the final edit. (If you’re the sort of person who enjoys a quiz – a Christmas Quiz! – you may enjoy having a punt at which words have been reinserted.)

Speaking of Christmas, I wish readers greetings of the season, and more especially, a 2018 of peace and goodwill. On that latter wish, well, don’t hold your breath, but do what you can. Others are having a bash at it too.

Children and teenagers want and need to take risks. They do this ‘naturally’ in the sense that, left to their own devices, they seek out and create encounters that carry degrees of risk or uncertainty. This process of risk-taking necessarily entails exploration, discovery, and learning – about oneself, one’s capabilities, and the wider world. To take a risk is to assert one’s autonomy and power of agency. It is to learn by doing that actions have consequences. It is an aspect of moral education. Play and risk-taking are creative acts. A perspective to bear in mind as we briefly survey the scene.

Here’s a conventional playground: fenced, rubber or synthetic ‘safety’ surface, inert, uniform, dead. Inside the fence are metal swings, slides, and climbing frames. Climbing, swinging, and sliding are the only actions the equipment formally allows. But there are always renegades who will use equipment ‘wrongly:’ climbing on to the roof of play equipment that was not ‘meant’ for climbing; being upside down on a swing or slide. It’s simple really: children are exercising their sense of agency, their autonomy, their creative capacity to bend even seemingly resistant environments to their own purposes and interests. And the risks they take are generated by their choices, their imaginations, their creativity. Continue reading


In the southeast at least, fading summer departs with grace cut across by wet and windy bluster.   Autumn beckons.   But the sun shone last week, and in that lingering warmth I found myself in Vauxhall Gardens, site of the original Vauxhall Pleasure Gardens between around 1650 – 1850.

The historical gardens offered pleasures  more extensive than those available today, but the past few years have seen the Gardens reclaim one aspect of their former glory: people are using them again, as a through route, as a place to linger.  Within the Gardens is Vauxhall City Farm, a stalwart which, if memory serves, dates from the early 1980s.  But this is simply background to my actual subject: Deckchairs. Continue reading

Seats of choice

This article was initially conceived as a paean to the park bench as emblem and occasion of informal sociability.  Enthused by a visit to some parks in Paris, and being delighted by the seats (more anon) seen there, I was going to make the argument for similar seats here in the UK based on the view that they could help enhance the sociability of the public realm, complements to the traditional park bench.   But a little thought made me see that I was wrong about the connection between park bench and sociability – too simplistic, seeing what I wished to see, and not what was there.  So, now I wish to promote those very same seats, but for different reasons.  But first, park benches. Continue reading