Speaker Series #12 – Reclaiming the Value of Play in Cities

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Cities on the Frontline Speaker Series

#12 –  Reclaiming the Value of Play in Cities

“Think of what you enjoyed most as a child, and now as an adult, try to create those moments throughout the urban fabric.” – Leticia Lozano

In this special Cities on the Frontline Webinar, R-Cities launched a partnership with the Real Play Coalition, Strengthening Urban Resilience Through Play.

“We must ensure that every child is respected, valued, treated fairly and loved.” Sylvester Turner, Mayor of Houston and Chair of R-Cities’ Board.

Mayor Turner kicked off the session by launching a survey on how cities are building resilience through play. He continued to outline the City of Houston’s commitment to children in their efforts to build back better.

Jerome Frost, Global Cities Leader at Arup and Co-Chair of the Real Play Coalition, then joined in to provide the perspective of a city practitioner. Arup plays its role in the coalition by being particularly focused on the built environment, in creating a safe, inclusive and playful public realm. With London, Milan and Cape Town, Arup has driven the Reclaiming Play in Cities initiative to form an urban play framework to guide design and placemaking.

“Play is a bio-marker of the health of societies.” – Thiago Hérick de Sá

To underscore the importance of play in the health and wellbeing of people at all ages, the session was joined by Thiago Hérick de Sá, Healthy Urban Environment Technical Officer, WHO. He stressed that children are not only the beneficiaries of this work but must be active participants in the process of planning, implementing and monitoring it. Enhancing the agency of children is a critical in enhancing their health and wellbeing throughout their lives.


Bringing in a design perspective, Leticia Lozano, Co-Founder and Director of MACIA Estudio, provided examples of initiatives and interventions in Mexico. Participatory processes and community engagement is central their process through the design and evaluation process. At MACIA Estudio, they create frameworks and strategies to embed play into urban agendas, design and disseminate tools on the importance of play, guides on how to continue to play during Covid-19, among many other projects. Lozano continues by detailing a participatory planning and play project developed among an informal community by a canyon at the edge of Mexico City. She stresses the importance of involving children, women and the elderly throughout the community engagement process.

“It has been proven once and again when places are designed, developed and transformed from [a community’s] perspective then the places belong to everyone.” –Leticia Lozano, Co-Founder and Director of MACIA Estudio,

Finally, the webinar was joined by two speakers from Belfast City Council – Richard McLernon, Project Coordinator for the Climate Unit, and Callie Persic, Regeneration Project Officer. Together, they outline the many placemaking and community projects the city has undertaken. McLernon provides insight into the challenges youth face, the history of conflict and shocks faced by the city, and the resilience strategy that has come out of this. Persic then continues by describing the interventions conducted to enhance the public realm and bring people back into the city centre. One of these examples was a pop-up park for children which was very well received and resulted in the growth of similar play and placemaking initiatives.

The session then culminates in a discussion on how we can better recognize the many benefits of play, how it can be used to address inequalities and how cities can commit to children while building back better.

Share what YOUR city is doing to make cities more playful here!


Sylvester Turner
Mayor City of Houston, Chairman, R-Cities Board
(via recorded message)

“It is imperative that we at the Resilient Cities Network now work as part of the Real Play Coalition to ensure that investments strengthen the resilience of children in our communities who will lead the future of our shared world.”


Jerome Frost
Global Cities Leader, Arup

“There has been a growing deficit of playful spaces in cities.”

“Play is a bit of a Trojan horse, whilst the benefits seem to be for children – we are also at the same time investing in places that their parents, the elderly, and the wider community likes to enjoy.”


Thiago Hérick de Sá,
Healthy Urban Environment, Technical Officer, World Health Organization

“Play is the pulse of an urban environment”

“Health is not only an outcome but an input – we have a role to play as a larger health community, whether you are an engineer, urban planner an architect, you are all health professionals because what you do impacts public health.”


Leticia Lozana
Co-Founder & Director, MACIA Estudio

“We shouldn’t miss out on the opportunity to put children and play at the heart of our community.”

Leticia Lozanas presentation

Richard McLernon
Project Coordinator, Climate Unit, Belfast City Council

“Including the voice of young people and not making assumptions of what they want is essential.”


Callie Persic
City Regeneration & Development, Belfast City Council

“I want to think of play more broadly – to benefit people of all ages.”

Richard McLernon & Callie Persic’s presentation

Watch full session here:

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Speaker Series #12 – Reclaiming the Value of Play in Cities