Speaker Series #7 – Creating Resilient Cities – The Role of Play in Planning

May 2022

About the Session

The Speakers

About the session

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#7 – Creating Resilient Cities – The Role of Play in Planning

The COVID-19 pandemic has had a devastating impact on children, disrupting their schooling, affecting their well-being, social contact, and even nutrition. This is especially damaging for children living in deprived urban areas, increasing the risk of poverty given the accumulated disadvantages. With the objective of reclaiming play in cities and ensuring children get access to essential developmental opportunities through play, Resilient Cities Network and the Real Play Coalition partnered in the Strengthening Urban Resilience through Play initiative.

The seventh Cities on the Frontline session of 2022, a part of a series of webinars on how to Strengthen Cities Through Play started by framing the session with some key insights on the role of city planning identified in the work with the Real Play Coalition and seven ambassador cities including Houston, Milan, Barcelona, among others. The report that will be launched during the World Urban Forum, compiles inspiring examples from the ambassador cities as well as key insights on how we can integrate play within city planning while co-designing the future with children and their caregivers to make them more playful.

Ariadna Miquel, Urban Strategy Director at the Office of the Chief Architect for the Barcelona City Council, started off the session by sharing Barcelona’s experience and initiatives around play. Barcelona, a city with a high population density that is mainly composed of superblocks announced a climate emergency. To tackle these challenges the city has called for an “Urban Reprograming”. This reprograming, Ariadna shared, involves many different  initiatives from the perspective of play, including initiatives to envision superblocks in Barcelona, transforming roads into pedestrian streets and reclaiming space for people. The second initiative, “Plan for Play” focused on changing the mindset from a city with play areas to a payable city, the last initiative “Let’s protect schools”, that focused on the understanding that schools are social centers with the potential to be surrounded by multipurpose interaction and play spaces. To conclude Ariadna emphasized that it is possible to reframe public space to create ownership for the people that inhabit the city. She also took this opportunity to mention that Barcelona has been named the UNESCO capital of architecture and to invite everyone to join them for the UIA World Congress that will take place in Barcelona in the year 2026.

Dr. Sara Candiracci, Associate Director at ARUP, Joana Dabaj, Co-founder at CatalyticAction both complemented Ariadna’s presentation by sharing some useful tools developed to help urban practitioners integrate play in an efficient and effective way in their cities.

Dr. Sara Candiracci, for instance shared the insights on the important role of play in cities with the Playful Cities Toolkit which was developed over the last year in collaboration with the LEGO Foundation and provides a range of resources to support government authorities, urban practitioners and professionals working on child development to better design and plan for play in cities. Sara continued her presentation by sharing some of the things that the toolkit is doing to help cities take advantage of the benefit of play and overcome challenges. One of the core elements of the toolkit for instance is the Urban Play Framework which is a planning tool to help understand the basic dimensions of play at different urban scales for a holistic view. The 3 key areas that the tool addresses include understanding, designing and measuring. To illustrate how the tool has been used she shared the examples of the Reclaiming Play in Cities Initiative implemented in London, Cape town and Milan.

Additionally Joana Dabaj, Co-founder at CatalyticAction, talked about the work that CataliticAction has been leading since 2014 to deliver playgrounds for refugee children in Lebanon, highlighting the importance of play in emergency contexts. More recent work has involved, community collaborative interventions in severely affected areas of Beirut as well as the community event activated public streets transformed to prioritize pedestrians. All of these experiences, Joana mentions helped shape the DECID Handbook, a handbook about co-designing built interventions with children affected by displacement. The handbook was created with the objective of being as practical as possible to help practitioners to implement interventions. The Handbook Joana says, provides practical guidelines, tools, examples, and templates to give an understanding of the different ways that practitioners can work with children to get the most out of implemented spaces. The main finding being that collaboration is key in all instances, as the projects that manage to have this comprehensive engagement are those that generate a very strong sense of ownership and empowerment. To close her intervention Joana gave a final message: How do we realize how such design processes have an impact that goes beyond the physical project and that is much more linked to the process?

The main thing that all panelists agreed on during the session is that there are multiple important benefits that can be harvested when implementing play initiatives including: strengthening child development by providing diversified learning opportunities, contributing to children’s wellbeing with the development of social, physical and emotional skills, creating a stronger sense of belonging and cohesion for communities as whole, generating co-benefits that address other important city agendas including climate change, security and create a positive impact on local economies. However in order to reap the benefits cities must overcome some important challenges including: reduced access to open space in urban settings and undersupply of play spaces with changes in urban lifestyles that deprioritize play, limited evidence and knowledge on the state and the value of play in cities which leads to low fundings for play initiatives, limited guidance for authorities who want to integrate play initiatives in their cities, lack of collaboration from different entities and levels of government necessary to implement projects and facing multiple operational challenges including safeguarding.


Lina Liakou
Global Director for City Engagement, Resilient Cities Network

We cannot design for play without engaging with children and their caregivers

Lina Liakou‘s Presentation


Ariadna Miquel
Urban Strategy Director at the Office of the Chief Architect for the Barcelona City Council

In our urban model we have some environmental quality indicators that show we have some problems including air pollution acoustic pollution, climate change and lack of green areas […] We have to reprogram Barcelona and we have to work in three axis, nature, proximity and collaboration


Ariadna Miquel‘s Presentation


Dr. Sara Candiracci
Associate Director at ARUP

“There is limited evidence and knowledge about why play is important for children among city decision makers and urban practitioners”


Dr. Sara Candiracci‘s Presentation



Joana Dabaj
Co-founder at CatalyticAction, architect and researcher

“How do we realize how such design processes have an impact that goes beyond the physical project and that is much more linked to the process?”


Joana Dabaj‘s Presentation



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