02 Oct 2020 • Living
Why Bryony Roberts wants to rethink residential streets for play and childcare
In the lead-up to each issue, we challenge emerging designers to respond to the Frame Lab theme with a forward-looking concept. In the early phases of lockdowns being lifted, we saw a variety of usually indoor activities extend and transition outdoors. Public streets are suddenly in high demand. Their layout and facilities may need to
change drastically. So how can we transform street life to meet our ‘new normal’? We asked three creatives to share their ideas.
With a BA from Yale University and a MArch from the Princeton School of Architecture in her pocket, designer-cum-scholar Bryony Roberts now leads her own eponymous practice while teaching architecture and historic preservation at the Columbia University Graduate School of Architecture, Planning and Preservation in New York. Roberts's proposal City for Children aims to dedicate select residential streets to outdoor play space and childcare. Bright patterns painted on the roads will ensure a certain form of social distancing.
You noticed a big change in street life during the COVID-19 crisis.
BRYONY ROBERTS: Yes. During the pandemic, there have been several municipal initiatives to close streets to expand mobility for bicyclists and pedestrians and to create outdoor space for small businesses.
But one demographic group wasn’t served so well . . .
That’s right. These initiatives often overlook part of the population most affected by the pandemic: children. Children endured limited access to outdoor play space and social interaction, two things vitally important for their physical and emotional health. The pandemic has also shut down many day-care spaces, due to safety concerns and reduced demand, making it difficult for caregivers to return to work.
Now that cities have and are opening up again, does the problem remain relevant?
While for privileged communities these issues are specific to the pandemic, many lower-income communities chronically face shortages of safe, accessible play space for their children, as well as affordable childcare. As a practice, we respond to such contemporary urban conditions and aim to create interactive and inclusive environments in the public realm.
What do you suggest?
To address both the short-term needs of the pandemic and the long-term needs for services for children, my concept City for Children proposes to convert select residential streets into spaces for playgrounds and childcare. These streets should particularly be located in areas that lack such facilities. The street would be painted in bright patterns to organize structures for socially distanced fun. To enable children over five years old to play with each other safely even during a pandemic, and enable caregivers to share the labour of child supervision outdoors, there will be seesaws, swings, lily pads and a proposed structure called the ‘social flower’. And, a portion of the street will be dedicated to day care to take care of the younger children. This could either be an extension of an existing day-care facility or a space for smaller day-care collectives run by parents.
This interview is featured in our current issue Frame 136. Get your copy here.