I’m a big fan of building real-life community, and believe landscape designers can do so even while designing single family residential projects. This book shows one approach to doing just that.

The book, written by a father of three children, begins with a manifesto, a vision of a neighborhood block that allows kids to shape their own play time: ‘I want my kids to play outside with other neighborhood kids every day…’ I want them to create their own games and rules… I want them to make lasting physical artifacts that show the world that this is their place…

The author posits that, setting aside parenting changes over the generations, free play for kids has decreased because neighborhoods are boring compared to the alternatives (internet, video games, structured activities).

The book includes detailed case studies of playborhoods throughout the nation, including several in the California cities of Menlo Park, Palo Alto and Davis.

Next, the author reviews the steps to creating a playborhood: 

Identify a potential playborhood

The author offers a checklist to evaluate a block for suitability as a potential playborhood. You need kids, calm streets, and walkability to start.

Create a neighborhood hangout

To entice his own children and those on the block to play together, the author has designed his front yard to be a fun gathering place for kids and adults. Features include: a whiteboard, picnic table with storage benches (for meals, storytelling, art projects), media system, concrete driveway with a neighborhood map mural, neighborhood mosaics, play river, sandbox and basketball hoop.  The space is aesthetically pleasing, and used by all ages. He started with the front yard, because other parents were more comfortable having their children play where they could be seen. After the neighborhood social bonds began to form, he added fun elements to the backyard: in-ground trampoline, playhouse (with drywall art space, porch swing, climbing toeholds, skylight, sound system) and slumber party accessories, swing set with swappable accessories.

Keep kids’ lives simple

Help the youngest kids have a rich reality-based life – plenty to touch, smell, and see outside, right outside the front door. Offer them lots of opportunities to learn how to get along with peers, problem solve, and explore. Teach kids to value their home and neighborhood as the center of their lives. 

Make a village

Organize regular neighborhood free play days, plant a community garden, have regular community dinners, run a neighborhood summer camp, organize block parties, hold family social events with neighbors.

Encourage self-reliance

Teach kids how to play pickup sports games, help kids establish a nearby nature hangout, encourage nearby independent (safe) roaming. 

Let them roam with cell phones

As they get older, kids can roam greater distances, expanding their neighborhood. Trust them to do so safely, by teaching them how to do so.  

These are the ingredients for contributing to a playborhood cultural movement. 

While we are on the topic of children in the landscape… 
Here are a few books you may find interesting. Click on the cover for details.