Set children free: are playgrounds a form of incarceration?

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Play has been the invisible casualty of the pandemic. Is it time to let children reclaim the streets? Our writer looks forward to a post-Covid world of parklets, play streets and repurposed parking spaces

On the other side of a child-sized archway lies a street that has had supersized sprinkles of confetti painted across its tarmac. This leads to a surreal scene strewn with boulders, undulating benches and piles of logs. A tap emerges from one boulder, a hammock swings near a picnic table in the middle of the road, while a circle of planted willows forms a living den on the verge. When the pandemic struck last year and playgrounds were quickly sealed off with tape and metal barriers, this playful space in Hackney, London, remained open – because it’s not actually a children’s playground, but a public street.

“We were trying to show that play is an essential part of civic infrastructure, just as important as pavements,” says architect Liza Fior, whose practice, Muf, conjured this permanent play street for the council. “It’s not overtly a playground, but there are invitations to play set all along it.”

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