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Milan Play Street
City/Region : Municipality of Milan - Urban Resilience Department , Italy

Milan Play Street is an initiative realised by the Municipality of Milan in collaboration with Arup and the Lego Foundation. It consists of co-creating new public play spaces to support the neighbourhood’s safety and inclusivity. The environmental and pandemic crises have pushed the Administration to rethink urban planning strategies toward a more significant consideration of the well-being of citizens. In this vision, Play Street involves schools, families and children at the centre of a participatory process that culminates in the closing-off of streets after school hours to offer pupils and families a safe place to meet, play and learn.

EU Green Deal Policy Areas Addressed
Climate actionSustainable mobilityEliminating pollution
Pathways followed
  • Involve citizens through participatory implementation
  • Promote social innovation supporting inclusion
Context
©ARUP

Milan is the second-largest city in Italy and the national economic capital. In the last few years, Milan has embarked on a transformative process guided by the principles of sustainable development and the goals of the European Green Deal. In 2021 the Municipality adopted the Air and Climate Plan, a voluntary document that will guide Milan to achieve carbon neutrality by 2050. Mitigation, adaptation and air quality improvement are the three closely interrelated components of the Plan that will lead the transition, combining environmental sustainability and social equity. This virtuous process has been undermined by the health and energy crisis that exacerbated existing social vulnerabilities. The population decline, the increase in the unemployment rate, and the doubling of families receiving food aid demonstrate that social inequalities and the quality and accessibility of public spaces and services are still challenging the just and equitable transition Milan wants to achieve.

In Action
©ARUP

Play Street is a workshop that includes the temporary pedestrianisation of a street to be used for activities to animate citizens and promote games for children. It transforms the public space into a welcoming space for the entire community, especially children.The initiative is organised following the Urban Play Framework developed by Arup for the Real Play Coalition. The Framework provides a structured play experience that helps build a participatory process that leads to the identification of obstacles and opportunities for playful public spaces.

The first pilot project in Milan was realised in the Rogoredo district in June 2021, involving the primary school “ICS Pasquale Sottocorno” and a network of various actors in the neighbourhood, including children, parents, school staff, local organisations and interested residents. The collaborative experiment was replicated in the Chiaravalle district in September 2021 and the Municipality intends to reproduce the experience in other suburban districts.

During the workshops, the streets were furnished with movable urban furniture and play equipment. Multiple stakeholders, including local associations and school staff, organised the sessions and playful activities. Arup and Lego Foundation organised the workshop ‘Build your future city’ dedicated to children and teachers exploring and creating public play spaces in Rogoredo. The session aimed to identify possible urban interventions based on play in open spaces, green spaces, roads and local schools. During the activity, children and teachers were asked to design the area in front of the school using construction sets to give life to their ideas.

Play Street has represented an excellent opportunity to address multiple needs, focusing on social spaces and vulnerable groups.

“This experience underlines the opportunity to further support city authorities and urban practitioners to put play at the heart of decisions about the built environment, as child-friendly cities are better cities for everyone,” stated the Director of UKIMEA Region Chair (Arup) and Co-chair Real Play Coalition, Jerome Frost.

The temporary workshop led to a Collaboration Pact in Rogoredo signed by the school and various local organisations. Collaboration pacts are local agreements that identify guidelines for experimenting with policies that involve active citizens, informal groups, associations, educational institutions and other operators involved in the operation of common goods. All streets in Rogoredo are considered a common good where regenerative designs can be implemented, with the view to extending similar initiatives throughout Milan.

Integration

The Play Street initiative was launched during the COVID-19 lockdown. Schools were closed and forced to adopt distance learning to ensure social distancing and guarantee sanitary precautions. In many cases, this situation led to social isolation for many children.

Despite all the difficulties, the Municipality decided to take advantage of this time of distress and uncertainty to rethink the urban context and accelerate political interventions to make the city more liveable, resilient and adaptive to changes. Therefore, the Municipality adopted the Milan 2020 Adaptation Strategy that addresses the emergency by planning activities, initiatives, and temporary projects supporting the Municipality's long-term plans, strategies and actions, such as the Climate and Air Plan. The Adaption Strategy prioritises initiatives that redefine the use of roads and public spaces to develop areas that allow recreational, cultural, and sporting developments. Moreover, it focuses on initiatives directed at vulnerable groups, such as isolated elderly people, children and teens, who, perhaps more than others, have suffered from isolation. The Play Street project falls neatly within the strategy's vision, providing concrete support for achieving its goals.

Results
©Urban Resilience Department

The outcomes of the Play Street event are highly positive. The experience made it possible to re-invent the public space of the street and create new visions and shared points of view for its potential. The results of the initiative helped to identify a territorial strategy for play which aims to improve all three dimensions of the Urban Play Framework:

  • establishing connectivity across spaces
  • maximising the role of the school in the neighbourhood
  • encouraging the responsible use of digital technology to facilitate educational play experiences

The pilot project at Sottocorno elementary school in Rogoredo illustrates how communities, institutions, and the private sector can work together to implement local adaptive actions that can be scaled up to facilitate city-wide transformation.

The process was also a fundamental opportunity to expand social and community networks, leaving the neighbourhood with a Collaboration Agreement as a tool for inclusion and active participation. Furthermore, the Collaboration Pact signed by the school and organisations opens space for local actions for the use and maintenance of common goods.

Impact

Play Street was vital to raise awareness of the importance of playing spaces for children’s development and optimal well-being. Moreover, scaling up the project will provide further benefits for the city of Milan by strengthening environmental resilience through reduced emissions and the promotion of active mobility.

The action has developed a Territorial Strategy to activate various opportunities for play in the Rogoredo district. The Strategy identifies several actions to be implemented in order to amplify the impact of the Transformative Action. The Municipality will monitor its implementation to measure the success of the initiative.

Challenges and lessons learned
©ARUP

The choice of neighbourhood and school in which to implement Play Street is crucial. To indeed promote social innovation and support inclusion, it is essential to choose the school and community that identify the social and economic inequalities the initiative intends to address and overcome. With this in mind, it is necessary to analyse the socioeconomic characteristics of neighbourhoods, choosing to pursue precise activities in areas where the level of education is low and there is a clear need to improve safety and access to public spaces by putting schools and the education system at the centre of public life.

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