Strong opposition to a society closed by conventions can be identified in the spontaneous play of children. One can say that the outdoor recreational activity of children often represents an early form of criticism and reaction to the world imposed by adults. Childhood activity, such as playing in streets not designed for that purpose, is a form of resistance.
Urban communities are, oftentimes, excluded when designing public spaces. Playground games, organized by children, do not only concern children. They are the result of a continuous mediation with the adult world. The child, together with adults, is the object/subject of this participatory, social discourse. The process of engaging with a space will render them cognizant of the place in which they are. They will develop awareness of themselves as a critical solution to the shortfalls of their environment, instead of simply being part of it.
Rafael Machado asks: How can childhood survive in cities of developing countries?
LPU answers: Amman, a city focused on commercial trade, is a vibrant place that is filled with hospitality from its inhabitants. On the other hand, visiting Amman with any other purpose than trade, one comes to realize that it is lacking greenery, the soil sits dry and that rapid, informal growth has neglected to create areas of leisure, such as playgrounds. This is evident in all social classes, even in the middle and upper class neighborhoods. Amman shines with a yellow color, much like the sand that surrounds it. And from an outside perspective, it is an attractive place. But as we zoom in, taking a closer look at the communities, we quickly realized that they are in fact colorless. But despite this, children still play.
In LPU, our most important and effective tool is participation. By including boys, girls and even mothers in the design process and in the final construction of the proposal, we can assure that they will maintain these spaces; there is strong identification generated between the new, modified space and its main users, the boys and girls of the community. The activity of creation that reinforces the new space is simply a seed that teaches the power of participation and group work. The place we selected for the first stage of investigations was the Ashrafiye slum, a place that is characterized by its high population of immigrants, mostly from Palestine.
In response to the previous meeting and then the discussions during the first stage, we elaborated on a sketch that was discussed with the community-especially with the children. They liked memorizing each of the elements of the proposal. They easily constructed the proposal mentally. Then in the implementation of the activity, they remembered and worked for each of the elements.
Although in the construction, we assigned the three parts of the “U” shaped alley to different groups—one to smaller kids, one to girls and one to boys-, the groups mixed themselves naturally when we started painting. The groups helped each other paint with the same enthusiasm as when painting in their own designated areas.
This situation encourages us to understand that we impose boundaries, believing that they will hold. But socialization through specific activities, like play and participation, erases these limits. The change was instantly noticeable from the beginning of the activity. This stands in stark contrast to the centralized, city projects in which the community and future users have little say.
Paints, tools, and recycled materials were left in the hands of the community, to build their environments themselves. Now we have to replicate the development of the space in other places, continuing to provide hope for the survival and flowering of childhood in developing countries.