A NEW LOOK
By Paula R. Machlin
THIS THESIS IS SUBMITTED BY PAULA RENEE MACHLIN AS PARTIAL FULFILLMENT OF THE REQUIREMENTS FOR A MASTER OF LANDSCAPE ARCHITECTURE DEGREE AT THE
UNIVERSITY OF COLORADO AT DENVER COLLEGE OF DESIGN AND PLANNING GRADUATE PROGRAM OF LANDSCAPE ATCHITECTURE
Payyl Heath," Prof, of Architecture University of Colorado st Denver
TABLE OF CONTENTS
The City....................................... 2
Urban Design in America....................... 2
The Thesis..................................... 2
SCOPE AND PURPOSE
Limits in Scope................................ 3
THE RELATIONSHIP OF KIDS AND DOWNTOWN
Children Are Different......................... 6
Kids Need City Experience...................... 7
The City Needs Kids............................ 9
The Design Goals
RESEARCH: KNOWING CHILDREN
Literature Review........................... 12
Field Studies............................... 19
THE DESIGN FRAMEWORK
The Framework Format.......................... 24
The Building Blocks........................... 25
The Design Process............................ 27
Site Selection............................... 29
Systems Level................................. 30
Component Analysis............................ 33
Concept Plan.................................. 37
Without the help of rny thesis advisors,
I would have faced major difficulties in completing the project. I wish to thank, once again, my committee members: Todd Clough of the Denver Childrens Museum; Paul Heath, Professor of Architecture at the University of Colorado at Denver: and Ann Moss of Shapins/Moss, a Landscape Architecture and Planning Firm. Thanks also to Dan Young, Director of the Landscape Architecture Program at the University of Colorado at Denver, who gave me encouragement when I needed it most. Last but not least, I sincerely thank the various elementary school teachers in the Jefferson County School District who willingly gave me their time and who obviously give the students their hearts.
This thesis is about the relationship between children and downtown, the ways in which that relationship is important, and how it can be improved. The final product is a design framework which can be used to create more vital, more viable downtowns for people of all ages.
For some people, it may be difficult to imagine that a city landscape can be valuable to either adults or children. Yet those who have visited the great European or American cities know that the landscape of a city can be
wonderful. By mixing old and new, by juxtaposing shapes, textures, smells, sounds, and activities on a pedestrian scale, the city allows people to
experience new things, to learn about history and culture and to feel a. part of a larger society, an inherent need which people share.
Urban Design in America
Over the past decade, many American cities have realized the importance of cities and are trying to preserve and enhance their value. Cities such as
Portland and Minneapolis have succeeded in building on the existing city landscape to enliven their downtowns, creating not only an excellent economic base, but a sense of community pride as well. Yet this success was achieved by considering only the interests of adults, as if doing so responds to the needs of children as well. One wonders what new solutions and -perhaps new problems- would surface if childrens' needs and interests were explicitly incorporated into the design and planning process.
The following chapters expound on this question, showing why kids should be considered in improving downtowns and how it might be accomplished through design.
SCOPE AND PURPOSE
The possibility-children could relationship is America today, often considered that children need
that downtowns and share a positive rarely considered in In fact, downtown is the antithesis of all to grow up happily
and healthily: downtown is dangerous, polluted, and ugly, with few attractions for kids.
Limits in Scope
Certainly, in many of todays downtowns a variety of real and perceived problems prevent children from enjoying
downtown. Parents may prohibit children from going downtown because of real or perceived fears about the childs safety. The city may in fact not provide the kinds of activities that interest children; or parents of kids may not be aware that such activities exist. Children may also not have access to downtown because of inappropriate transportation options. Furthermore, the physical qualities of the landscape can be frightening or uninviting to children, even in places that adults find desirable. Thus, a broad range of social, political, and physical factors affect the current and
potential relationship of children and downtown.
The purpose of this thesis, however, is to explore only the physical factors that affect how children experience downtown. The thesis is further limited
to the needs and interests of children from the ages of five to twelve years old (about kindergarten to seventh grade). Although substantial
differences in social, physical and intellectual needs exist within this age span, both younger and older children differ so significantly as to warrant separate study.
Research in several disciplines provides insight into childrens interaction with the physical environment and the significance of that interaction. However, the research is typically applied only to playground or classroom design, if it is used at all in the design profession. In contrast, this study applies the information to the design of downtowns. By relating some of the things we know about children and the landscape to some of the things we know about cities and urban design, this thesis presents a design framework for downtown redevelopment which reflects the needs and interests of children.
The thesis has three specific objectives:
1) to show why downtown improvement efforts should consider kids' needs for the sake of both the kids and the city itself;
2) to suggest a physical design framework for downtown improvement efforts that responds to kids needs; and
3) to show that incorporating kids needs into the downtown redevelopment process can inspire design concepts which work better for people of all ages.
The test of the design framework, then, is not in its ability to produce child-oriented places, but in its ability to enhance all the purposes of the city, adding new dimensions to the range of options and ideas for the magical city.
The process for achieving the three purposes is illustrated in Chart A. There are three basic steps, each of which corresponds to a thesis objective
and is described in the following chapters. The chapter entitled "Investigating the Relationship" corresponds to the first objective; the chapters entitled "Research: Understanding Children" and "The Design Framework" correspond to the second objective; and the chapter entitled "Case Study: Applying the Design Framework" corresponds to the third objective. The last chapter presents a review of the project and the authors' conclusions.
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This chapter investigates the relationship between children and downtown, a relationship that is usually-forgotten or ignored. Because of this omission, efforts to create a pedestrian experience in downtown focus on the pedestrian only as an adult, ignoring the child. This omission raises several questions: Do children need special attention in design, or is planning for adults enough to respond to children as well? What could kids gain from city experience? What could the city itself gain? Can childrens needs be incorporated into the urban design process?
Children Are Different
The goal of creating more fun and exciting pedestrian environments is certainly valid for both adults and children. Yet children are smaller, more curious, and less competent in traffic than adults, facts which automatically suggest the need for different design responses.
Various studies of how people perceive the landscape also show that the structure of perception is different for
adults than for children. For example, Jeff Bishop found marked differences between maps drawn by children and those drawn by adults of the same walk down an urban street in London. All adults noted a major landmark building while only a few children drew the lavatories at its base. All children noted electrical boxes which the adults missed entirely. On a humorous note, Dattner noted how comfortable children are with junk yard-playgrounds while adults immediately react negatively.
Confirmation of the need for designers to pay special attention to children's needs when designing is found in the playground studies of the early 1970s. These studies show conclusively that adults often overlook the needs and interests of children in designing the physical environment.
The answer to our question is clear: planning and design for adults in downtown is not the same as planning and design for children. Special attention to the way in which children relate to the landscape is essential for creating a viable downtown experience for children.
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Kids Need Cities
From child development studies as well as the playground studies of the early 1970s, we know that kids learn by interacting with their surroundings. By experiencing a range of physical and social environments, a child develops his or her emotional, physical, and intellectual potential. A rich and
diverse environment in childhood can have a lasting affect on an individual's ability and interest in learning.
question: WOULD CIOS BENEFIT FROM EYPERlENOmC CDUKTCMMJ
Consider that a large number of our nations children are growing up in suburbs, with the typical rather uniform landuse pattern and homogeneous populations. Even if playgrounds and other designated childrens places were ideally designed, the suburban landscape is limiting in terms of form, meaning, activity and social context.
Generations of kids are growing up with little or no chance to experience the landscape of the urban core, with its diversity of architecture, form, activity, people, and history. A whole range of experiences and ideas are denied to kids, opportunities for learning are lost.
Social scientists have long been concerned about the detrimental effects that isolation from the diversity of the working world has on childrens ability to learn about the world and their place in it. Instead of through first-hand experience, knowledge is often gained second-hand from television or teachers, a less meaningful and effective way to learn. Children themselves continuously exhibit a preference for the complexity of the real world to the limited view of the playground, instinctively searching for new facts about life. When one considers that experience is the basis for learning, the ramifications of the limited experience of suburban children become alarming.
For the older child, the car-oriented suburbs limits opportunities to gradually extend his or her range of
independent travel. The process of gradually increasing home range through negotiation with parents is an important part of the growth process. If downtowns accessibility and attraction to this age group could be increased, an important opportunity for children to increase their independence would result. In view of the fact that social scientists often attribute increasing vandalism by suburban youths to boredom, this is highly desireable.
Thus, increased interaction with the city can be fun for kids while offering a diverse range of opportunities for learning and growing. By offering the chance to see many different kinds of people and activities as well as shapes and sounds, and places and spaces, the city is inherently fun and exciting. Perhaps, the physical form of the city itself with its diversity of age and architectural styles can be used to give children more direct experience with art, architecture, and the implications of political and cultural decisions. If so, the educational value of the city is enormous.
Cities Need Kids
Consider- for the moment how the city itself might benefit if children alone and with families were an integral part of downtown spaces and activities. An inherent value of downtown itself lies in its diversity, its ability to bring people and places together with opportunities for formal and informal happenings. Clearly, by excluding children, the city limits its inherent value while inviting children contributes to what the city is all about.
Inviting children has economic benefits as well. Efforts to develop retail and evening activity downtown will surely fail if the economic base is limited to adults without children. The efforts at shopping malls to provide events that attract children are evidence of the economic importance of child appeal. Unfortunately, little attention is given to the physical setting of those events in downtowns.
More important than economic issues in
the long run is the fact that cities need a living memory if they are to survive. Cities are growing changing organisms. To survive and flourish, people who enjoy and understand its potential must be available to affect its growth and change. Thus, the future survival of the city itself may depend on how well its children remember downtown as they grow to adulthood. Perhaps American cities have reached the sad state that they are in today in part because of lack of awareness of her children.
ouestion: would the city
ITSELF BEWEFrr FE0M THE BEESEMfcE OP MORE K.1PS7
Actually, most cities do attempt to attract children and families to downtown. During holidays or downtown promotions, substantia] effort is expended to create festivals which promote an atmosphere for children. Although festival is clearly an important city function, they are necessarily infrequent and labor intensive. Moreover, festivals do not represent a complete view of downtown. In addition, studies in downtown Denver, Colorado show that people attending festivals do not shop or participate in other revenue generating activities while attending the festival. Planners and designers need to focus on the day to day functions and design of the city to ensure a place for families and children.
The Design Goals
Clearly, downtown redevelopment efforts that explicitly consider the needs and interests of children are more likely to be used, enjoyed and understood by
them. Providing cities that children can use, learn from, and enjoy is important not only to expand their horizons, but to ensure a more vital, more economically viable downtown. In fact, the survival of the city itself may depend on how she welcomes her children. Consequently, downtown redevelopment efforts should explicitly consider kids.
Three specific design goals are clear: downtown should be designed to be more fun, more useable, and more educational for children. These goals derive simply from the benefits of city experience to children and the inherent value of the city landscape itself.
Fun is undoubtably the overriding goal, since unless an activity is fun, children are unlikely to learn or participate. If we could isolate the qualities that make some things "fun" and other things boring or tedious, we can determine what is inherently fun about the city from a childs perspective and design to maximize the experience.
The educational opportunities inherent
in the city landscape are enormous. The learning potential of the city landscape is based in part on the physical form of the city. Its spaces, textures, colors, and the way in which these fit together can create a rich perceptual experience. The form of a city also records mans tie to nature, the effect of mans ideas, the impact of technology, and imply conscious or unconscious decisions regarding our quality of life. The childor adult for that matterwho can interpret these often hidden meanings will not only enrich his everyday life, but will increase his interest and ability to participate in shaping the environment.
The city is also a place of activity: different kinds of people doing different types of jobs, living different lifestyles. If these were more observable, children could understand more about the society around them and their choices in it.
Obviously, a city cannot be fun or educational for a child unless he or she can get there and actually use it once there. By understanding where children live in relation to downtown and the
physical and cultural factors that affect a childs access to and use of the citys resources, we can design to increase useability.
Useability also covers small-scale concerns such as the height of seats and telephone booths, the heaviness of doors, the clarity of signs and so on that do not match childrens size or reading skills.
From this brief investigation of the relationship between kids and downtown, it is obvious that a design framework for making downtown more fun, more educational and more useable to children is needed. The question is how can it be accomplished? What are the current problems and potentials? Can we understand the problems and use that knowledge to generate realistic solutions?
RESEARCH: KNOWING KIDS
The basis for designing more fun, more educational and more useable cities for children is, of course, an understanding of children. What qualities or attributes of the landscape create a comfortable, exciting, fun, place for children of different ages? What role does the physical environment play in a childs learning and development process? What physical factors hamper a childs ability to enjoy and understand the city and its activities? A research program is needed to answer the questions and identify areas for new research.
A two-phased research program was conducted for this project: the first phase was an extensive literature review; the second phase was a field study to collect additional data where possible. The literature research and field studies are reported separately below.
Literature in fields such as human geography, education, child psychology, environmental psychology and environmental design were reviewed for
data on childrens interaction with the landscape. The literature also provided the information on data gathering techniques needed to develop field studies conducted for this project. In addition, several sources of information on the use of city form in education were identified.
The data are reported in terms of the design goals of fun, education, and useabi1ity.
The data reported here provide insight into the affect of growth and development patterns on a childs ability to use downtown.
The term home rangeor spatial rangerefers to the relationship between a childs home and his range of movement during free play. Understanding the effect of phases of growth and development on home range suggests opportunities for making downtown more accessible to children on their own, without parents, an experience which can facilitate maturity and minimises boredom in older
Hart provides an excellent summary of studies of home range in various disciplines. His summary as well as studies by Bowden, Southworth, and others show that factors such as age, sex, cultural background, social and environmental hazards, and income level affect a childs home range, creating a fairly distinct pattern. Assuming a demographic pattern that has children living outside downtown, several conclusions are possible. First,
children younger than 9 can not be expected to go downtown without an
adult. However, by age 8 or 9, great increases in home range occur, and a child could conceivably bicycle to downtown with friends for great distances. By age 10 or 11, children are capable of using public transit to travel substantial distances with friends providing the transit system is understandable. (The Boston Childrens Museum has an interesting program that helps children in this age group use public transportation.)
A number of physiological parameters affect a childs ability to judge the
speed of oncoming cars and to otherwise respond to traffic. These factors limit the type of bike access that is in fact safe for children. In general, children younger than 8 or 9 years old cannot accurately judge the speed of oncoming cars and must be protected accordingly. Studies in Scandinavian countries suggest that children cannot competently ride bikes in traffic until age 14.
The information discussed here provide insight into the educational potential of downtown experience for children. Educational potential is a function of growth and development factors, as well as of the nature of the physical and social environment that a child experiences. Family interaction, formal school education programs, and the way in which a child plays are important mechanisms that facilitate learning. Play is the focus of this study, because play is simply the way in which children interact with the physical and social world around them.
Before discussing play in more detail, however, a basic discussion of growth
and development phases and categories is useful. The most complete theory of a childs understanding and intellectual development of spatial concepts is that by Swiss psychologist Jean Piaget, completed during the 1960s. Based on a series of experiments, Piaget identified four major stages in the development of intel1igence:
1) the sensormotor period (birth to 2 yrs) During this period a child develops the ability to move consciously rather than simply through reflex;
2) the intuitive or pre-operational period (age 2 to 7 yrs.) A child begins to have mental images of things not actually manipulated or perceived, although the images are based on an egocentric viewpoint without logic.
3) the concrete or preoperational stage (age 8 to 12) This phase is a major change in a childs intelligence as he begins to recognize logic, developing the ability to view things from anothers perspective;
4) the formal operational period (older than 12 yrs) The child begins to be
able to use representational symbols in thought without the immediate support of perception or experience.
The application of Piagets theory in this study is limited to two points: 1) children younger than 3rd or 4th grade cannot be expected to understand the more subtle lessons of the physical landscape and 2) elementary school childrens ability to understand and learn is substantially increased with direct experience of the subject to be taught. Findings in the field of education confirm the importance of personal experience to learning.
In addition to Piagets description of growth and development phases, growth and development can be categorized by type. A number of interesting studies suggest classification systems for types of growth and development, but those suggested by Rohane and Barnard are most useful for this study. Based on Rohane and Barnard, the following paragraphs describe different types of development that occur in the pre-school and elementary school child.
The physical development category
entails development of agility, balance, coordination, endurance, flexibility, power, speed and strength. This type of development is facilitated by physical activity, playground equipment, organized sports, and physical education classes.
The social development category involves learning cultural values and how to get along in society. As a child grows up, he or she learns to cooperate, interact, share, compromise, lead, and follow. Learning is facilitated by group play, school and family interaction, and observing others.
The last development category includes development of self concept and emotional development. By interacting successfully with the environment through manipulation an through social interaction children develop an understanding of themselves as well as self-confidence, independence, and environmental competence.
Studies of play behavior suggest that different types of play relate explicitly to particular types of developmental needs. Because
developmental needs are a function of age, different types of play are associated more with one age group than another. Dattner and Friedberg provide excellent summaries of the developmental implications of play type, describing the nature of play for different age groups as well as suggesting design criteria.
Based on discussions by Barnard, four types of play are described below: 1) active play, 2) social play, 3) fantasy and make-believe play, and 4) adventure or creative play. In the following paragraphs, each play type is defined in terms of the development categories. Moreover, the strengths and weaknesses of the traditional interpretation of the design implications of these play types are discussed.
Social play usually occurs in small groups and comprises a high proportion of childrens play activities. Availability of other children as well as places to meet with comfort and privacy help facilitate this type of play. Through this type of play, a child learns how to get along with others. This type of play is least
relevant to this study.
Fantasy and make-believe play also occur in small groups, but involves imagining. Through imagining, children can enhance their self image, try on adult roles to see what it feels like, and in general exercise their creative beings. A physical environment that allows manipulation and provides materials for props can facilitate this type of play. Again, Dattner, Friedberg, Nicholson and others provide insight into designing playgrounds that are coducive to fantasy play. However, the fact that kids need the raw material for this type of play is often ignored. In other words, they need to see adults doing different jobs, to experience different things which become food for imagining: no child will imagine being a policeman if he or she has never seen one.
Adventure or creative play includes making things, exploring, building, digging, and discovering. Through direct involvement, children can gather facts, developing their understanding of the world around them. In third grade, a child begins to explore complex
concepts and relationships. However, man-physical interactions are more readily understood than ecological concepts, since such interactions have more basis in personal experience. By successfully manipulating their environment, children also learn environmental competence (see Hart), which develops self-concept and problem solving abilities.
Unfortunately, explicit data on how children learn about environmental processes and cause-effect relationships are lacking. Nevertheless, a number of provocative findings suggest that certain types of play are important factors in a childs assimilation of cause-effect concepts. For example, in his study of Vermont children, Hart noted that a majority of the time spent playing in dirt (especially for boys) actually involved large scale mapping of the landscape. He suggested that this type of play may be critical to a childs developing ability to understand the implications of large scale form. It is unfortunate that more data on the role of the physical environment in developing this type of intelligence are unavailable.
Another often neglected developmental category is that of perceptual/creative/ aesthetic abilities. Collin Ward and June McFee note that perceptual and aesthetic abilities are learned skills to a large degree and recommend using the built environment to teach these and other skills. The AIA Source book, updated annually, is an excellent source of information on use of the built environment in formal education programs.
A unique but fascinating finding by Southworth in his study of Cambridgeport boys is worth mentioning. Southworth found that the study group of boys from age 10 to 12 had no knowledge of the rich history of their urban neighborhood outside Boston, with one exception: they knew the history of a battle by George Washington because of the plaques on statues in a near-by park. Although limited, this observation suggests the possible value of using parks and statues as a way to allow children to explore and discover the meaning of history on their own. Perhaps doing so would create a better basis for understanding historical lessons in
These data reinforce the importance of introducing children of all ages to the city, to provide raw material for creative play and personal experience on which to build other experiences more readily. The data further suggest the importance of making city activities more visible (see Wurman), providing opportunities to view the city from different heights and perspectives and to observe people at work. Design concepts that help children interpret the city need to be developed.
The data reported here provide insight into the design qualities of play environments which encourage growth and development. These concepts can in fact be applied to the design of cities, although typically their application is limited to playground design.
Despite their importance, the play studies in general have several weaknesses that warrant mention. First, most studies focus on playground activity, although most play actually
occurs near the home, not in parks or playgrounds. Second, the studies often use the observation technique, which limits the observers' understanding of what a child is thinking or feeling. Furthermore, the observation technique precludes observing hidden or secret play which several researchers have shown is important. In view of this thesis focus on the downtown environment the available data are even more limited: there are very few studies of childrens use of downtown or urban neighborhood environments.
For a discussion of the qualities of play that can serve as design guidelines, Dattners book Design For Play is excellent. In the book, Dattner suggests that children demand freedom and control in play, using movement to gain a sense of control. Climbing, jumping, sliding, swinging, and touching are favorite actions. The extent to which these qualities can be built into the downtown landscape will determine how well it works from a childs perspective.
Unfortunately, few studies of children in the urban landscape have been
conducted. Kevin Lynch conducted a study of older city children in developing countries of some interest. Southworths study of Cambridgeport boys is once again particularly worth noting. Among other things, Southworth found that places of action and movement attracted the 10 to 12 year old boys that he studied. Food and water were also favorites.
A large number of studies on how children represent (map) the built environment have been conducted. Such studies could be designed to provide insight into childrens understanding of and feelings for the downtown landscape which in turn could give designers insight. However, most studies are mainly developmentally oriented, providing less useful information for this study than one would expect.
For our purposes these studies indicate that: 1) before the age of 8 a child has to move through a space to represent it, which implies that to understand a place a child has to experience it under his own locomotion; 2) children of different
ages map in distinct styles, which suggests ways to present route maps that are most understandable to kids; 3) drawings are a useful tool for exploring children's knowledge and understanding of places; 4) small-scale three or two dimensional models of places can be effective tools for helping children learn about places and concepts.
More research on way-finding is necessary to help us understand how to use design to orient children and minimize problems of getting lost.
Field research was conducted to: 1) provide the author with direct contact with children (there is no substitute for personal experience) and 2) to obtain information on how metro-denver children use, enjoy and learn from downtown landscapes. This information would be useful to accent, clarify and augment the findings of the literature review as well as to provide information specifically relevant to the case study.
The field research has two components:
1) informal observation studies of childrens behavior in various downtown situations and 2) direct communication with third graders regarding their use, understanding and enjoyment of downtown Denver. Each component is described separately below.
Observations were conducted on weekends during warm fall weather at two downtown retail centers: the 16th street mall in Denver, Colorado and the Pearl Street Mall in Boulder. Observation of children's behavior at each mall provided valuable insight into the effect of physical form on childrens movement and activity patterns. From this, several conclusions about childrens use of and enjoyment of downtown are drawn.
The design differences between malls create dramatically different opportunities for children to interact with the landscape. On the Boulder Mall, children move through the space animatedly jumping or climbing on which ever planter edge is the proper size for their age and skill level. Special play
spaces provide ample opportunity for amusement while parents sit and rest or shop.
On the other hand, the 16th street mall offers limited opportunity for movement: the paving does not inspire a child to move and the scale is overwhelming. Seating areas offer little opportunity to do anything besides sit, a situation which quickly becomes tedious from a childs perspective. The few places that provide opportunities (such as the seats at the Market Street Station) act as magnets: it is amazing to see how kids inevitably try to jump seat to seat.
The presence of transit on the 16th Street Mall and the lack of distinction between the transit way and the pedestrian way further limits a childs freedom of movement, as parents instinctively grab their childs hand to walk.
Observations of childrens during special festivals at malls and Larimer Square in Denver further illustrate how design affects a childsand
behavior at both downtown physical therefore
an adults enjoyment of a downtown retail area. Observations at Octoberfest in Larimer Square and a Shakespeare festival at Tabor Center on the 16th Street Mall show how little opportunity is provided for kids.
Although the observation studies were not rigorous statistical analyses, the conclusions are suggestive. The studies clearly show that attention to simple physical forms such as paving patterns and use of ledges and edges, can create more enjoyable experiences for kids. Moreover, it brings to mind the problem of having sitting places associated with retail that work for kids.
THIRD GRADER REACTIONS TO DOWNTOWN
The second component of the field research involved direct communication with third graders regarding use, understanding, and enjoyment of downtown denver. By interfacing with an ongoing program in Jefferson County, Colorado, it was possible to with kids to learn feelings for and downtown Denver.
interact directly more about their understanding of This study was
particularly useful in providing insight
into the potential of the city to be made more educational and childrens receptiveness.
The Jefferson County School System includes an excellent social studies unit for third graders in which students study different communities. Since Jefferson County is generally low-density suburban development, the unit includes study of downtown Denver to provide contrast. In addition to educational films and lectures, the kids take a field trip to downtown Denver. On the trip, a series of exercises help them to understand what they see, to learn about growth and decay, and to understand art, architecture, history, and many other aspects of the Denver community. With the help of several Jefferson County teachers, I was able to participate in the program.
It should be noted that these children may not have the same reaction to downtown as children without formal exposure through the education system. In fact, an interesting study would be to determine what differences might exist between the reactions of Jefferson County kids and those from another
For this study, several methods were used to gather information on kids reactions to downtown:
1) teacher interviews at five schools
2) participant observation on two field trips
3) sandbox modeling
4) before and after questionaires
5) drawing likes and dislikes from the field trip
6) class discussion.
The teachers were asked if they noticed any pattern in childrens reactions to downtown. Interestingly, each teacher noted that every trip was different. The class itself was different and the events of the day were different, causing different items to stand out. Enjoyment of the trip was, however, universal. These discussions illustrate the breadth of experience that downtown can offer.
As a participant observer on two trips,
I also noticed variation among children and the two classes. The interest that
the children had in learning and their ability to explore sophisticated urban design concepts was remarkable. For example, one class discussed the problems of preserving old buildings without prohibiting new buildings which "will be old buildings in, say, five years. One group was enthralled by stories about a fire on Larimer Street in the early days that lead to ordinances requiring brick buildings. "Boy, those people in the olden days were smart was the response from one child.
Sandbox modeling was conducted after the first trip. Two groups of two children each (two boys and two girls) were taken to the school yard sandbox and asked to build their trip, and then show how they would change downtown to make it better. The boys were very interested in providing free play spaces near where they thought that their parents might spend too much time, leaving them bored. In addition, every high building was required to have an overlook so they could look down on the city.
The girls were less comfortable with the exercise, as was suggested in the
literature on this method. Nevertheless, their interest in learning was apparent. As one little girl said, "Well, you know the capitol is my favorite, but I wish I knew why it was there. What does it do?" The other little girl said, "The old part is my favorite but how did it get old? I wish I knew about old buildings more." It was truly touching.
These efforts are not rigorous analyses. Nevertheless, the studies clearly demonstrate that children are willing and able to learn about cities, suggesting the importance of helping them.
The next series of exercises were conducted more formally in conjunction with the second field trip. For this trip, the survey form shown on the following page was prepared with the assistance of the teacher. The form was distributed before and after the trip. Twenty-eight responses were received. Figure 1 shows the information on childrens familiarity with downtown. The results of the before questionaire were tabulated and compared to the results of the after survey as shown in
On this paper, write down what you know about downtown Denver before we go on our field trip. tfhen we pet back from the trip, It mipht be fun to look at these papers and see if you want to add anything. Remember, there is no right or wrong... Simply write down vour ideas.
Pretend you are describing downtown Denver to a friend from out-of-town.
1. What would vou say downtown looks like? smells like? sounds like?
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3. What kinds of activities can you imagine yourself doing downtown? VJhat do you think other people do downtown?
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For the next two questions, circle the best answer.
1. How often do you go downtown?
NEVER A FEW TIMES
2. Does anyone in your family work downtown?
I DONT KNOW
YES, I THINK SO
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FAMILIARTY WITH DOWNTOWN
iDOES YOUR FAMILY WORK DOWNTOWN?
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RESPONSE TO INITIAL SURVEY
IMAGINE WHAT II SMELLS LIKE
IMAGINE MHAI II SOUNDS LIKE
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figures 2 and 3, respectively. Immediately after returning to the school after the field trip, children were also asked to draw their likes and dislikes. The results are shown in figure 4.
The studies clearly show the interest that the children have in learning which supports the need for making the city more educable. The ability of third graders to address some fairly sophisticated concepts about urban form was fascinating. The children loved the statues that were encountered on the trip. Interestingly, no individual statue stood out; their favorites were almost equally divided. The after survey showed that children generally formed more positive or more accurate opinions about downtown indicating the educational value of trips.
25 : 20 : 15 10 5
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COMPARISON: RESPONSES BEFORE AND AFTER
YOUR ACTIVITIES OTHERS' ACTIVITIES
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A 3rd GRADERS UIEM OF THE CITV
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BUILDINGS STATUES ACTIVITY PLACES ENVIRONMENT DEMOLITION
The research summarized in the previous sections provides the raw material for a design framework. The data make it possible to explicitly define the original design goals--fun, education, and useabilityin physical terms and to generate physical design concepts for-achieving those goals as a function of a childs age, learning processes and perceptual abilities.
The Framework Format
The framework is intended to help designers and planners create more fun, more educational and more useable downtowns for kids. Consequently, the information discussed briefly in the previous chapter needs to be formated in a way that helps designers do what designers do: And what designers do is ask questions!
Designers evaluate physical landscapes, asking whether the existing physical form supports specific design goals and whether new forms can be created which are richer and more effective. The more explicit and insightful the designers questions, the more likely it is that answers will be effective.
Thus, a question format is used to translate the research findings into a design framework. With these questions in mind, a designer can look at a downtown landscape and ask if it is fun, educational or useable from a childs perspective. The questions themselves suggest answers, becoming the building blocks for all efforts to make downtown more fun, more educational and more useable. In some instances, research results also suggest specific physical techniques for achieving the design goals.
However, the kids questions and associated physical design concepts are not sufficient in and of themselves. Design always occurs on several levels, moving from large-scale design, to site-specific design, to detail design and construction drawings. The questions, then, must be organized in a logical sequence, responding to the different levels of design. The organization of the questions establishes a design process.
The design process should not differ from the typical urban design process in
concept, only in scope; that is, by incorporating kids questions, the design process simply expands the scope and possiblities usually encountered in our adult-centered downtown improvement efforts. The design questions and the associated design process are discussed in more detail in the following sections.
The Building Blocks
The kid's questions should relate directly to the design goals, and the design goals themselves must be clearly defined in physical terms. To create a building block, each design goal is defined in terms of its basic qualities and related to the inherent value of the city. Then a list of appropriate questions and possible physical responses are provided. In some cases the research data are not sufficient and more research is necessary.
The building blocks are shown in the following pages. Because fun and education are so closely related for the elementary school child, those design goals are combined.
BUILDING BLOCK: FUN AND EDUCATION
The basic qualities of fun are action and diversity, freedom and control, and comfort and belonging. The basic qualities of a learning experience are that it is first-hand experience and relates to a child's existing structure of knowledge.
The citys potential to be fun and educational is inherently high; however, downtown often lacks activities and forms or design details that respond to childrens needs.
The evaluation questions include:
What is there for a child to do besides sit and watch?
Does the paving pattern inspire movement?
Are there ledges, edges, fountains or statues that invite climbing and touching?
Are doors, windows, high?
or phone booths too
What is there to wonder at?
What is there to understand?
The design concepts or techniques include:
Make interesting places accessible and visible.
Provide high places to look down from.
Use paving, planters, and street furniture to create two and
three-dimensional patterns that invite jumping and other movement.
Use murals, paving patterns, and small-scale two or three dimensional models to interpret.
Let children see how things work for themselves.
Provide manipulation and involvement through touching and movement whenever possible.
BUILDING BLOCK: USEABILITY
The inherent qualities of useability
relate to size, that is the small scale of children to limited ability to perceive traffic, and to a typically lower ability to interpret written messages than adults.
The citiess inherent potential to be useable is hampered by traffic.
The kids questions include:
Do 11 year old and older children take the bus downtown? Why not? Are the bus maps readable?
Are there safe bike paths for children that access downtown?
How long is the walk cycle at intersections?
Are vehicles allowed to turn on the walk sign?
What and how is information on traffic and orientation presented? Would kids be able to understand?
The design concepts or techniques include
Develop a transit program modeled after the Boston Children Museums "Detours" Program.
Replace word directions with pictures wherever possible.
The Design Process
Ideally, design occurs on three levels: systems level, component level, and detail level.
Produce maps with aerial photographic
style images or two dimensional ______________-___________________________
perspective maps. | i&MLWva. ku*X5*=th* pesicai ccais-fw, eduÂ£tou, u^/aurv
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Systems analyses would include:
1. Access to downtown Where do families live? In view of demographic patterns, how appropriate are existing and potential bike routes and bus routes. How appropriate is the manner of presentation of bus route information to kids? In view of kids' needs, what are some possible approaches to improving routes?
2. Existing plans and__places Where do
kids currently go in downtown? Are there data on how well the places relate to outdoor spaces? How do the activities for kids relate to those for adults or to the overall goals of the city? What are the current plans for improving downtown? Would those plans be enhanced by focusing on the needs of kids and the ability that places which attract kids have to attract adults as well? Perhaps a major effort to develop a child-oriented network, node, or path is warranted.
3 Potential fun or educational____places
Where are important educational or fun resources in the city that should receive special attention?
4. Conceptual Plan Once the analyses are completed, a conceptual plan should be prepared that identifys desired areas of special appeal to children and places that need to be fun for children in order to succeed in attracting adults. The plan should also identify neighborhood and internal pathways that would be important to a child's experience of downtown. The plan should, of course, in reality be incorporated into the larger urban design program of a city.
The component analyses would refine specific components of the systems-level conceptual plan, referring to the building blocks for ideas on how to design more freedom, control and meaning into a downtown experience for kids.
Detail design would simply be the traditional refinements and construction drawings for a project to be built.
By applying the design framework we can see if it actually works: does it help identify problems and more importantly, does it help generate creative ideas for-making downtowns more fun, educational, and useable for children while enhancing its other purposes and overall viabi1ity.
As discussed in the previous chapter, the design framework suggests several systems level analyses. However, a complete and in depth analysis requires resources beyond the scope of this study. Consequently, this application is limited to an inventory of existing plans and places, briefly discussing the potential for additional fun and educational systems. Then, a component of the system was selected for a brief analysis to illustrate the next portion of the design process. Although limited in scope and detail, this brief analysis shows clearly that the framework works and the original objectives of the thesis can be met.
The case study is downtown Denver, Colorado. Downtown Denver has the
characteristics of downtown that create the inherent potential to be fun, educational, and useable for children. As the capitol of the State of Colorado and one of the older and largest cities in the Rocky Mountain region, it contains the government functions and historic meaning that create downtowns special value. In addition, a variety of downtown-related planning efforts are in progress, making it possible to verify the underlying premise of this thesis: that cities do no consider kids in their efforts to improve downtown. Moreover, it is possible to consider the ideas generated by actual downtown planning efforts in light of the proposed design framework as a test of Objective Three.
For our purposes, downtown includes the area shown on the map entitled "Inventory: Plans and Places." The area is actually larger than that generally considered as downtown for planning purposes. However, this study is more concerned with urban resources than with conventional boundaries, and for that reason expands the area usually referred to as downtown.
The Systems Level Inventory map includes the following key items: 1) the
districts that are commonly used to describe downtown Denver for urban design purposes; 2) places specifically recommended for children, based on Susan
Kayes book Small People in Big_Places;
and 3) the public open spaces for which improvements were proposed by the downtown Denver Public Spaces Project.
Within each district, major public and private planning efforts are underway, each intended to enhance the viability of the urban core. To date, these efforts have not recognized the need to consider children and families in relation to downtown development. In fact, only one project specifically recognizes children. Not surprisingly, the Children's Museum and The Platte River Greenway Association are jointly exploring ways to develop the Platte River as an interpretative area for children, emphasizing river ecology. An obvious extension of this concept is to relate to the near-by city, focusing on man's influence, since this concept is more readily understood by elementary
school children. Development of a physical link between the Childrens Museum and downtown with an interpretive theme is an idea with exciting potential.
Based on the inventory of plans and places, a number of other interesting possiblities arise. As shown in the analysis map, kid's places from Susan Kayss book actually cluster in Denvers standard urban design districts.
The government and cultural district in particular has many attractions for kids. However, the attractions are generally buildings and indoor activities. The relationship of these buildings to the city as a whole is not recognised, and the potential use of outdoor spaces to interpret the lessons contained in buildings, or simply to create a safe and enjoyable walking experience is ignored. Considering that hundreds of thousands of children and their families visit these places each year, an opportunity is being missed.
Two public spaces in the government and cultural district were studied in the Project for Public Spaces: The Denver
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Center for the Performing Arts (DCPA) and the Civic Center Park. Both places are considered underused but important amenities for the city. Recommendations for improving the attractiveness and increasing use of these spaces included use of vendors, outdoor cafes, and streetscape design.
As successful as this approach can be, one must ask whether it can be applied to every underused or potentially important place in the city. Is there a limit to the market? Will it become boring and generic? In addition, these concepts have limited appeal to the family market. Typically, outdoor cafes and similar developments appeal to adults. Consequently, these developments can be expected to have limited success in drawing large numbers of people to downtown. Yet if these spaces were designed as special attractions for kids, another large segment of the population would suddenly be drawn downtown.
As the framework shows, design for childrenin fact, design for playneed not be limited to play equipment or other 'looks' that are not appropriate
for downtown. The DCPA Park and Galleria as well as the Civic Center Park could be designed as statue parks and gardens to provide climbing and interpretative play spaces for children while also appealing to adults. With a little effort, any number of creative and reasonable ideas could be developed and implemented.
The analysis map also shows unexpectedly that the financial district has many attractions for kids, most of which are indoor displays and tall places to look down from. The finding is unexpected because, from a pedestrian's viewpoint, the financial district is an uninviting canyon of tall buildings. Since children need high places to look down from, this opportunity should be enhanced rather than ignored.
Those interested in the financial well being of the retail core should be concerned about limited attractions on the 16th Street Mall and Larimer Square.
The portion of downtown selected for
additional analysis is shown in the map entitled "Site Analysis." This segment was selected because it creates a loop containing several important elements of the city: the Cherry Creek Bikeway, The DCPA, the Larimer Square historic area, and the major retail district along the 16th Street Mall. In addition, the site contains several spaces studied by the Public Spaces Project. The latter fact allows for review of the improvement proposals developed for Prudential Plaza under The Public Spaces Project in terms of the design framework.
The components of the site are shown graphically in the Site Analysis Map. In the following paragraphs the site is evaluated in terms the kids questions based on the building blocks in the design framework. The discussion is presented as a walk around the block, beginning with access off of the Cherry Creek Bikeway (1).
A natural flow of children and families bicycle on the Cherry Creek bike path near The DCPA during nice weather. There is, however, no particularly good reason to leave the path via the Curtis Street ramp (2), crossing Speer
Boulevard to The DCPA Park (3) and The DCPA Galleria (4). The Curtis Street rarnp is not identified as an entry to downtown and there is no bicycle parking associated with the exit. From both an adult and a childs perspective, The DCPA open spaces are boring.
For those who do visit the DCPA Galleria, it is only a two-block walk down Curtis Street (5) to the 16th Street Mall (6), downtown Denvers major retail district. However, from a pedestrians viewpoint, the problems with Curtis Street are many: an unattractive streetscape without amenities or activity as well as hazardous garage driveways that punctuate the street unexpectedly. The street fails to connect to the mall with the DCPA either functionally or visually, a fact which detracts from the liveliness and viability of downtown itself.
The problems and solutions for Curtis Street and The DCPA are discussed in the document entitled "Improvement Proposals for Downtown Public Spaces" prepared by the Public Spaces Project. However, neither the analysis process or the
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design solutions it generated incorporate kids needs and consequently, are not likely to be the proper scale or to allow movement and interaction or other desired qualities. Nevertheless, the potential for responding to childrens needs is tremendous, and with a little effort much could be accomplished.
For those who walk down Curtis Street to the 16th Street Mall (6), a more exciting landscape awaits. From a childs viewpoint, the fountains, the mounted police, the people, and the vendors are new and exciting. These attractions, however, are temporary and short lived, because they do not allow a child to move freely and frequently, getting personally involved.
As the Analysis Map shows, a person who is walking along this segment of the mall has access to several public open spaces: Prudential Plaza (7), two blocks of Skyline Park (8), a City of Denver Urban Renewal Project, and Writers Square (S). Unfortunately, neither Prudential Plaza or Writer's Square offer much opportunity for movement or learning. On the other hand, Skyline
Park has potential, incorporating fountains and a variety of ledges for climbing and jumping. The potential is not realized at present, however: few children or families use the spaces. This can be attributed in part to the lack of visibility of the parks and an appearance of private ownership, as wel] as to the lack of other activities to draw families. Nevertheless, the parks are a much needed compliment to the developing shopping district.
The Public Spaces Project prepared a conceptual design plan for the Prudential Plaza that responds to a variety of problems found in the existing design. However, the proposed informal seating areas and other aspects of the design are not likely to appeal to children. As a major open space on the mall, it is critical that this plaza be designed to provide a place for children.
If we continue to walk, down the mall, we arrive at Larimer Square (tc) Larimer Square has a better scale for kids, with textures and low windows, plaques and statues. A rich diversity of festivals are staged to appeal to young and old
alike. Yet even so, the formal atmosphere imparts a sense of 'do not touch' that reduces a child's freedom even during' festivals.
As we walk down Larimer Street towards Speer Boulevard, we pass the Bell Park (14*), a small statue that had tremendous appeal to the third graders from the Jefferson County field trip, as the trip leaders helped them interpret its meaning. On the other side of the street is a nondescript park called Dravo Park (ID, that potentially has access to the creek.
To return to the bike path by walking along Speer Boulevard (13) is incredibly hazardous due to the traffic intersections, as discussed below.
Path safety warrants special attention because it has a lot to do with a childs' ability to move freely, i.e. with his freedom and control. The analysis map shows three types of intersections that a child encounters. The four way intersections are fairly safe, although light timing should be checked. The mall intersections are adequate although the conflicts with the
transitway were previously acknowledged. The intersections on Speer Boulevard are impossible for a child because vehicles turn on 'walk' signs.
The site must also be considered in terms of its existing and potential educational value. Of course, simply being downtown has the potential to be educational as a child will undoubtably see different kinds of people and places than he or she normally encounters. Yet windows are often too high or purposely tinted preventing a child from seeing any activity. In all respects, the workings of the city are largely invisible. Yet an innovative use of sculpture, frescos, small-scale 3-dimensional models can readily be used to interpret the many wonderful messages hidden in the built environment while achieving a myriad of other design goals.
Based on the analysis, the concept plan graphically summarizes ideas for increasing fun, educational value and useability from a childs perspective.
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A list of ideas and associated sketches for The DCPA Park and Galleria, Curtis Street, The 16t.h Street Mall and the Cherry Creek/Speer Boulevard corridor further illustrate these basic design concepts:
1) The DCPA Park
sculpture park and gardens with a theatrical theme for climbing and touching;
a miniature stage for real and pretend performances for children
2) The DCPA Galleria
kinetic sculptures for interaction and seating;
3-D model for seating that interprets the view of the Tivoli Brewery
3) Curtis Street
small sculptures of Tinkerbell or other characters from children's drama along light posts at child
murals and frescos of children's stories that can be touched.
4) The 16th Street Mall
cut away a piece of the mall paving to show how things work underneath;
small working sculptures of parking meters or other city items.
From "the authors perspective, the design framework works. By asking the kids' questions, a designer can evaluate a downtown landscape and recommend physical forms that create more fun, more educational and more useable downtowns for kids while responding to the citys other purposes. As shown in the concept plan in the previous chapter, some of the ideas may be wild, requiring major long-term commitments of time and money, while other ideas are simple and readily implemented.
The point of this thesis is not to argue the appropriateness of a particular concept or to present a detailed design: instead, the point is simply that cities need kids and kids need cities, and that by designing with kids needs in mind, we can create the magical pedestrian city that works better for people of all ages !
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