Children and experts redesigning playgrounds in the Western Balkans together

An innovative approach to redesigning the current playscapes

RE:PLAY (Redesigning playscapes with children in Western Balkans) is a project funded by the European Union, which aims to redesign playgrounds, with children as the main initiators of the project.

The project brings together partner organizations Škograd from Belgrade (SER), Pazi!park from Ljubljana (SLO), Kreativni krajobrazi from Zagreb (CRO), Gradionica from Bar (MNE)Qendra Marrëdhënie from Tirana (AL).

Last week, the partners gathered in Belgrade exactly in the middle of the project that started in January 2021. So far, the partners have realized a series of co-creative workshops and regional exchanges. The aim of the workshops is to test new design models through which children and young people are included as equal members in decision-making when designing a play space. The goal of this approach is to change the established design practice of designing for children into designing with children.

The results of this approach so far have strengthened children and young people, encouraging their imagination and independence in work and life, and also empowered them in exercising the right to public spaces and, more importantly, safe and authentic play.

Co-creative workshops – Summer School – School Laboratory 005 on Ledine was dedicated to researching play through play together with the children of Ledine, Belgrade

As part of the regular meeting of partner organizations held in Belgrade, a public event called “Play begins when we appear!”, where experts, individuals and representatives of organizations from the field of social sciences, humanities and spatial (technical) sciences met. Within the three-hour interactive program, guests had a unique opportunity to meet and talk from different professional and experiential positions about the theme of the game, and its role in the development of our unique personalities, society and cultures. Looking at the social circumstances of the Western Balkans, the participants talked about possible ways to nurture it through life and manifest it through the space and infrastructure of cities that encourage the most important development aspects and exercise the right to play as one of the project’s leading goals.

Reflective talk – The game starts when we show up! was held as part of the program Conversations between the Department of Pedagogy and Andragogy of the Faculty of Philosophy in Belgrade.

The conversation was stimulated by the introductory speech of Professor Ana Marjanović-Šejn, who has been defining parameters for quality play spaces for several decades through her work and practice. This public exchange was an opportunity for the local professional public to get acquainted with the project and get involved in thinking about the state of play in the wider social context of the Western Balkans. It was emphasized once again that nature is the ultimate playground that encourages curiosity and imagination and within which all generations can find and create their own space for play.

In the past decades, we witnessed the increasing urbanization of cities across the region, where cars and the growing construction index have priority in contrast to investments in increasing quality public spaces in line with the needs of local communities and fostering green infrastructure that would make cities more resilient to climate change and create healthy child and adult development environments. With this project, the partner organizations are trying to point out this issue that affects all spheres of society and its development, and the playscapes created for present and future generations are significantly affected by this fact.

Bicycle tour of partners from the region with the support of the Association Streets for cyclists in search of playscapes throughout Belgrade

Partners from the region, with the support and guidance of the Association Streets for cyclists, rode bicycles through the city streets in search of a play. Although in the last few years, Belgrade has received several innovatively designed and interactive spaces and content for games at various locations, especially along rivers, it has been noticed that these spaces are mostly without players. We concluded that the planning practice in Belgrade obviously does not include enough elements of nature and the formation of shade with tree canopy or in other ways that would allow the use of the content on hot days such as the day of this unique tour.

By the end of 2023, in Belgrade, Zagreb, Bar, Ljubljana and Tirana, partner organizations together with local partners,  children and young people wil create five redesigned play areas, and a handbook will be prepared for the professional public, illustrating different work methodologies.