4C) Playfulness

Quality of life is not just about work and rest but also play! The playful city is the child- friendly city, but play is not just for kids. It is what we all do when we meet friends for a drink, when we play sport, go to the cinema or bowling alley (or bowling green), walk in the park or ramble in the countryside. Play is what we do with our leisure time and should be woven into the fabric of our towns and cities.


An important part of this is child-friendly cities. As the author Tim Gill suggests, playful cities are not those that provide playgrounds, important as this is, but those where children have the freedom to move around and socialise with their peers rather than being hindered by busy roads or the fears of their parents. The Guardian quoted the mayor of Bogotá, Enrique Peñalosa saying: ‘Children are a kind of indicator species. If we can build a successful city for children, we will have a successful city for everyone.’

So the discussion of traffic-free routes in the Movement section, the provision of recreation space in the Health section and of natural green spaces in the Nature section are all important for the playful city.

There needs to be space for play, from back gardens to pocket parks and greens, municipal parks and wild areas where people can get wet and dirty. The park
is central to this for children and adults. It provides opportunities for play and welcomes all people from toddlers to dog walkers, Sunday morning footballers to Tai Chiers. In addition to playgrounds and sports pitches, they provide informal space that can be used for a huge range of leisure activities. This has been particularly important during lockdown where people have been able to meet in parks in a safe, socially distanced way.

Grown ups

As adults we also need to play and this also requires space where it can happen. Parks and other open spaces are vital, as are sporting activities and clubs. But we also need so-called ‘third spaces’. These are neither public nor private but provide spaces for people to some together and socialise. The pub is one of the most important of these third spaces – not for everyone but in many communities it is the focus for community life. Other third spaces include cafes, community halls, places of worship and youth clubs.

The long-term trend of pub closures is worrying in this respect, particularly in villages and neighbourhoods where there are few other places to meet. In some places communities have come together to save their local pub, running it as a community business or cooperative.

What You Can Do


Take a fresh look at your neighbourhood from a child’s perspective, from toddlers to teenagers. Where can they play? How do they get there? Is it safe? Lobby for traffic free streets and improved facilities. Organise sports clubs, youth groups, yoga sessions and rambling societies. Support your local pub and consider taking it on if it is in danger of being closed. Find time to play together.

Developers and Designers

Integrate children’s play for all ages into new developments. Provide gardens and courtyards for young children, creative and challenging play areas for older children and facilities for teenagers. Create usable public spaces with seating that allows people to talk to each other. Incorporate third places into development, including cafes and pubs, and provide space for leisure uses where possible.


Work with communities to make the most of local parks and play areas. Require developers to make their schemes child-friendly and mixed-use. Work to create low traffic streets and places that are safe for play.

Case study

4C) Mayfield Depot, Manchester

Mayfield is a 24-acre brownfield site in Manchester, next to Piccadilly Train Station, that’s packed with heritage plus the River Medlock flowing through its heart.

The site has an industrial history of innovation spanning back to the 1700s with previous use as a parcel depot, relief railway station and textile mill. The site was left derelict for over 30 years before U+I Plc purchased the site to kickstart the next phase of its revival.

The site is an important asset for the city, and the plans for its revival aspire to create a place of fun, playfulness, wonder and enjoyment for residents, new and existing, and for visitors. Overall, the brownfield site will provide over 2.3m sq ft GIA office space facilitating 13,000 new jobs, 1,500 homes, 56,000 sq ft of retail and leisure, a new 300-bed hotel and 13-acres of public realm area, including Mayfield Park – the city’s first new park in over 100 years.

U+I wish for Mayfield to be a catalyst for cultural change in the area and established the Mayfield Partnership at the inception of the project. The Partnership comprises U+I, Manchester City Council, Transport for Greater Manchester and LCR and was formed in 2016 with a shared vision to deliver a modern neighbourhood at the heart of Manchester.

In order to do this, the first phase of delivery will include Mayfield Park, significant public realm development as well as initial offices and a car park. Since day one of the Mayfield Partnership, the site’s heritage assets have been opened up to the city through a curated programme of placemaking-led events and projects.

The first major live music events began with an ambitious programme involving The Warehouse Project and some of the biggest names in electronic dance music, all taking centre stage in the historic Depot.

The remaining phases of Mayfield will be developed over the next decade and are expected to generate in the region of £7bn of socio-economic gain – creating a thriving and exciting neighbourhood for all Mancunians to enjoy.

Photography: © U+I, © Grosvenor