The Adventure Playground: Out of the Sandbox and Into the City by Sol Pérez-Martínez

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In his 1970s book, The Child in the City, radical writer Colin Ward uses the sandpit – a common element of playgrounds worldwide – to reflect on the relationship between people and their environments in post-war Britain. On the one hand, the sandpit is a confined box where supervised children are set aside to play. In a scenario similar to fenced playgrounds with swings and roundabouts, the sandbox separates the child from the city, limiting children’s play to the adult’s design and control. On the other hand, for Ward, the sandbox is also a place where children are left to their own devices to create imagined worlds. Thus, the sandbox allows young people to exercise their autonomy, collaboration, and creativity; like a smaller version of the adventure playground, which was, for Ward, ideal for spontaneous play.

Ward celebrated the adventure playground as a miniature of a free society where children engage in the continuous process of construction and destruction, collaboration and individual work, preparing them for freedom and responsibility in the real world. Ward then asks, what if instead of adding toys to the sandpit, we help children “climb out of the sandbox and into the city?”

In this talk, Sol Perez Martinez explores how groups inspired by Ward’s ideas helped children and other marginalised groups make the city their playground during the 1970s. Sol unpacks how Ward writes about children’s relationship to play spaces to critique top-down city planning, advocating instead for a broader engagement in urban change. Finally, the talk uncovers how these past practices are reemerging in new groups in Britain today.

Click here to view a transcript

Your support is vital

A small one-off or regular donation helps us present free exhibitions, events and education programmes across the city, up and down the UK, and around the world.