Marc Armitage - Thought Crime

In conflict with adults children usually lose

In conflict with adults children usually lose

a \‘shȯrt-rēd’\ piece

It seems to be a truism that when children and young people come into conflict with adults in their local communities it is the adults who invariably win. This is especially true with the allocation of space as can be seen from the vast number of complaints made by adult residents against local playgrounds every year.

This conflict takes many forms,  including the fear that a playground might attract people from ‘outside the area’ and increase crime levels; that a new playspace might reduce house prices (it doesn’t’ the reverse is true ); and even that it might be too brightly coloured.

Possibly the most high-profile complaint of late, of course, came recently from a London housing developer deciding that children living in social housing should be segregated from those living in privately owned homes on the same housing development.

Unsurprisingly, though, chief amongst the complaints raised, is about noise.  

These conflicts are nothing new. In fact, I have been called on many times to mediate in neighbourhood disputes over play spaces in my time and the vast majority of them have been about noise.

Some years ago, for example, I was asked by a local council to produce a report on a local playground that had been subjected to a number of complaints.  It was situated on the edge of a small country town within a well-defined neighbourhood area.

Suspicious Briefs

My brief was to make an assessment of nuisance and make recommendations on possible nearby locations the playground could be moved to. The latter point was unusual, and I confess it raised my suspicions of the motives behind this brief. But rent to pay, food to eat, etc. etc.

The first task I preformed was to make a ‘play value’ assessment, in other words an assessment on how popular a playspace might be based on a number of predefined criteria. At first glance it was typical of many local council provided playspaces – a jumble of mixed, mainly metal playground features, which despite an appearances of ‘quality’ usually scores quite low. In other words, looks good but not that good in play terms.

Yet this one was slightly different.

Despite being physically quite small and having few pieces of fixed play equipment and no clear distinction between spaces for ‘younger’ and ‘older’ children it actually scored quite well in terms of play value.

This is not insignificant as those play spaces scoring higher in play value tend to receive more use that those that do not. Yet, in this case the elements increasing the score were not necessarily deliberate design features.

The site was not a plain rectangle, which is the norm, as it had a bit of a bend in it that had clearly been shaped to wrap around a small clump of low growing trees roughly central to the site. These trees, the main branches of which were laying horizontally along the ground, displayed a lot of signs of wear and tear of play use and were therefore clearly popular.

More significantly in terms of usage, this playspace was in just the right place for its local community.

The report

I had been asked to provide a written report that would be presented to the local recreation committee but I discovered that if the report was short enough I could deliver a summary of the results verbally in person. So, I ‘accidentally’ forgot to present a draft of the report to the department before delivering.

At the meeting, the room was (shock horror) occupied by an exclusively male group of serious-looking suit-wearing councillors and officers. I set up for my allotted ten minutes of talking time, got my set of transparencies for the overhead projector ready (this been before the days of PowerPoint) and launched in.

I pointed out that (literally) all of the complaints noted were coming from one strip of homes that ran alongside the playground. These were all bungalows – a form of housing generally occupied by retired and older people (older people and playgrounds rarely mix).

I then showed maps of the area and pointed out the relationship of the small playground to the neighbourhood and how it was on a transit route for both the local primary school and high school as well as how close it was to the homes of local children using this space, all points which will increase popularity and average usage rates.

I also said that moving such a playspace was fraught with difficulties which were exacerbated by the current popularity of the space, and yet there was an obvious solution to the issue, which coincided with my wish to deliver the report verbally rather than in written form.

I finished with, ‘I note that the row of bungalows from which the current noise complaints are coming from were built after the construction of the playground. My recommendation, therefore, is move the bungalows.’

I sat down.


No questions asked.

The playground is still there


Marc Armitage


photo – a No Ball Games slap bang in the middle of a community space - very typical of the UK

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