Playgrounds for adults in Cambridge’s new developments? (and/or even the older parks as well?)

It was urban planner Sarah Bannister who came up with this one. Will any local council candidates write this commitment into their personal or their party manifestos for future elections?

Turns out there are some around already.

The above video is from 2017 so all of the restrictions following from lockdowns past and present to do with the CoronaVirus Pandemic, so inevitably playgrounds under the current lockdown are out of bounds. But once we’re collectively through this pandemic, could such facilities be built in places convenient for people?

It’s not all about gyms and pumping iron

Over the years a number of people have told me how negative experiences at school can put people off certain activities for life. This can range from general experiences (eg being bullied) to not liking a specific subject (horrible teacher) or a specific activity (team sports). I’ve never been the sort of person disciplined enough to commit to solitary intense exercise – I much prefer team activities with other people in open spaces (indoors or outside) when it comes to exercise. Again though I’ve yet to find the place where I simply want ‘to be’.

In more recent times it struck me that in 1990s secondary school, we were not offered the equivalent of walks in the nearby countryside as an option in P.E. The next generation of children in some of our local schools have started doing ‘daily mile’ walks. With hindsight it could have been something that we could have done with as well. but this was a time when the public sector was simply fire-fighting on a daily basis that there was little ‘strategic thinking’ time. Just desperation on how to balance the budget.

From country walks to adventure playgrounds.

At a particularly despondent moment a few days ago, local historian Lucy Walker posted this suggestion.

Below – a screenshot of Magog Down from G-Maps on the far left of the image, with Wandlebury Ring on the otherside of the very busy Cambridge-Haverhill road – one that desperately needs the rail link re-opening..

And that’s the problem – getting out and about isn’t the relaxing activity it could be if it means having to walk or cycle along multiple main roads and traffic clogged routes. The noise & air pollution alone is enough to make people not bother. This is why proposals such as Cambridge Connect Light Rail, and Cambridge Great Park are ever so important.

…alternatively you could go with the CEG’s plan for identikit boxes as per their submission to the Local Plan, with ‘pocket parks’ (anything larger might irresponsibly eat into corporate profits and shareholder returns so we can’t have that.

If anti-obesity, improving people’s mental health, and dealing with loneliness are do be desired outcomes then getting the urban design right is essential. This includes dealing with the risk that such places do not become no go areas. A quarter of a century ago, I saw one part of Cambridge as precisely that. Hence my manuscript diary from those years reflecting this.

So how do you design such a facility to stop it becoming a no-go area? What are the surrounding people, buildings, and complementary facilities need to be there in order to make it work. One good idea I saw Dr Stella Creasy MP make the case for was training the public on de-escalation, and how to intervene safely and effectively in tense/threatening situations.

…How they do it in the movies…

…although a better situation is one where punches are not thrown but the bullies learn their lesson anyway!

The importance of excellent urban design is something that comes up time and again, but one that too frequently is ignored by developers. Just ask anyone who uses Cambridge Station as a transport interchange for buses. Yet during my civil service days, the concept of Secured by Design was something I came across while working on the old Code for Sustainable Homes, a concept I still like but one that was scrapped by the Conservatives following heavy industry lobbying by big developers and their owners.

Building in such facilities where adults choose to go anyway

Is this something that could be built at proposed Lifelong Learning Colleges? As mentioned in that article, I think it would be a mistake to build those colleges as predominantly tower-block-based institutions with no access to green open spaces.

Where in/around Cambridge could such facilities be built?

Wandlebury, Milton Country Park, Coton Country Reserve are all potential options for ‘out of town’ sites. I’m also tempted by sites that have lots of people on them as well – such as Addenbrooke’s/Cambridge Biomedical Campus. We’re slightly more pushed for space even in the larger sub-urban parks, but it wouldn’t be impossible to build them in South Cambridge. (Nightingale Ave, Cherry Hinton Hall, Coleridge Rec, Romsey Rec, Coldham’s Common). I don’t know enough about ‘North of the River’ to pick out suitable sites, though even looking at the map the lack of available open space for the general public and local residents is a striking as it is depressing. How does Cambridge as a city overcome this?

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