Landscape architect Tobias Volbert of Playscape Creations has teamed with architectural firm Guymer Bailey in an effort to reshape the way neighbourhoods are designed.

Volbert wants to transform suburban streets into safe places for children to play, a concept that is becoming further from reality as more and more cars clog the roads.

In modern times, children’s play has become overly monitored, behind closed doors or in front of a screen, depriving children of a sense of belonging within the community.

“Where I come from in Germany we have a lot of play streets,” said Volbert. “We need to get back to community life, and streets need to help foster this sense of community.”

He says in Brisbane, where he lives and works, streets don’t foster this sense of community because they are designed as corridors for cars.

“Kids can’t safely ride their bike or run up the street and play,” he said. “Our residential streets are now traffic channels. I want to change that for my own kids.”

playscape design illustration

Playground Illustration from Playscape Creations

In an article titled No Kids Allowed: How Our Street Design is Killing Play, Sarah Goodyear says society must rethink its design philosophies.

“The way we design our streets sends a message and it is very clear: Cars, not children, are the things we value the most,” she said.

A recent survey commissioned by Playday found that 28 per cent of parents polled in the UK were hesitant to let their kids play outside because of “intolerant attitudes” by their neighbours.

Inhospitable play conditions, car traffic and fear of abduction were major preventative concerns.

The Playday group advocates for social change saying “Children should feel welcomed where they live and feel part of their communities.”

Twenty-three per cent of polled parents said “lack of community spirit” was a barrier preventing them from letting their kids outside, while 41 per cent said that kids playing outdoors would improve the sense of community in their area.

“The link between fear of traffic and fear of strangers is very real,” said Goodyear. “Car traffic makes streets unpleasant and unsafe, driving people indoors and disconnecting them from their neighbours. With fewer people outside, the fear of ‘stranger danger’ does increase.”

playscape design illustration

Playground Illustration from Playscape Creations

Playground design has recently emerged as a key urban issue in Brisbane. A multi-million dollar ‘all-abilities’ playground program was recently launched by the Brisbane City Council.

Volbert jumped on the opportunity to put his ideas into action. His aim was to reintroduce the community aspect to local neighbourhoods and transform streets into the seven-sensory playgrounds they have the potential to be.

Though he sympathises with parents that feel the need to cage their children in, he says if the suburbs were better designed to be safer, there would be no need.

Using Brisbane’s residential Alma Road in Clayfield as an example, Volbert and Guymer Bailey will show how the street can be turned into a safe play space catering to the seven human senses.

“By considering the seven human senses we create an environment that is inclusive for all levels of abilities, including children with sensory processing disorder and autism,” said Volbert. “The growing rates of sensory disability such as blindness, autism or hearing loss, and the increase in mental illnesses mean that communities will need to change.”

He notes that councils should be the ones to champion this change and that it should start sooner rather than later.

kids play garden

A playscape and community meeting place

The design team’s proposal to transform Alma Road includes a sensory garden, tree-lined play and exploration zones, a community gathering space and improved connections between the street and the parklands that meet the cul-de-sac.

Volbert hopes such a street transformation would maximise the opportunities children have for interaction, sensory experiences, and learning.

“This is a provocative design and I’m not suggesting that this is what all streets should become,” he said. “But it’s about getting councils and the community to think differently about the public space in front of their door.”

The Alma Road proposal has been submitted to the Building Trust International Competition called Playscapes, which aims to promote change and forward thinking in urban design.