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Facilities for play: a Pavlovian response?

Child in the City 2014 Conference Odense, Denmark

Facilities for play: a Pavlovian response?
about tolerance for play in public space.

The inducement for this contribution was an broadcasted item on Dutch television in September 2013. It showed one local resident complaining about a nutmeg soccer cage in front of his house. This facility for nutmeg soccer was just realized by the municipality. In his view there was an awful abuse of this facility leading to extreme noise pollution. On various internet-sites the soccer cage traces back to: 1. an initiative for renewal of the housing block, 2. adult's and children's participation about the living environment, 3. an alderman opening it with a lengthy speech and 4. finally a neighborhood opening party. Not long after this item on dutch television the facility was closed down.

Ask, anywhere in the Netherlands, children: "What changes are needed here, so you can play better outside?". Most boys will answer: "We want to play soccer!". We, adults, react usually with the realization of a facility: a small nutmeg soccer cage. In many cases this automatism reveals after a while that there was an underlying problem: the boys did not ask for a facility but simply approval to play soccer on the grass or concrete that is already there. Some residents put restrictions on them: be careful of my car, don't walk on the grass, don't make noise otherwise ....
Maybe it is time for us, adults, planners to unlearn this Pavlonian response. And question ourselves: "Why is this asked? There is enough open space fit for small soccer like games. So what is really the problem? This can reveal an underlying and on-going contraposition amongst the residents: intolerance towards play against compliance. What is better for the boys? Planning a small soccer cage? Or to place a sign: "Walking and playing soccer on the grass is allowed"? Or do we have to think of mediation between parties?
Since the start of the '70 (in)Tolerance is part of the literature about youth and public space. Often described in a hazy way as something that needs good design and spatial layout. But in the end it is about how people with and without children live together in a neighborhood.

An analysis is given of what is going wrong in these cases:
the doctrine of participation in planning and design;
already underlying existing social problems;
the role of time management in complaint procedures within the municipality;
complaining civilians repeating their complaint and thus probing all channels and procedures within the municipality and in court;
the lack of a legal framework to weigh the interest of children and youth (e.g. the right to play) against that of individual complaining civilians.

Finally what can municipalities (in the Netherlands) do to avoid costly procedures in realizing children's right to play in public spaces.

Key Words: (in)tolerance, play, boys-girls, open space, soccer, children till 12 years