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Play and grow

Co-regeneration of urban green spaces
Macerata / Italy
Size of city: 
43 000 inhabitants


Marzia Fratini
Pedagogical Coordinator Kindergartens
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QUIsSI Gioca! is a pilot project for the re-use of playful urban green areas, overseen by the municipality of Macerata (IT), encouraging participatory methodologies and integration. It relates to a public green area in the Quartiere Pace, a neighbourhood with a high number of immigrants, a junior high school, municipal and private child-care centres, and a primary school. The purpose was to rethink this area, highly frequented by children, and rich in cultural diversity.
The project explored co-management of the green space, a different concept of security, the creation of aggregation contexts, and social inclusion. It involved building games, and defining spaces together with inhabitants. This first operation gave start to QUIsSICRESCE, a participatory planning project to improve the outdoor space of five municipal child-care centres, to share a different approach to outdoor education.

The solutions offered by the good practice

The starting project was divided into six self-construction dates during which the participants have achieved together a playful device, starting from the track on the ground of a square, the labyrinth. The Association Les Friches has played a role in facilitating the dialogue. The materials were selected from those stored in the municipal nursery: all natural (wood and stone) or recovered from older games, furniture, floors or green areas fencing, from pruning or removal of hazardous trees.
In collaboration with the Meridiana social cooperative, and with the support of the environment technical office, it has organised the construction site, planned jobs to support activities with the children and done the work of making the area safe. We tried to work together, with appropriate approaches, with all the children according to age groups.
The same approach was then applied in green areas of the five municipal child-care centres through a two-year process of participatory planning, training and self-training which involved the teachers, parents, local administrators and technicians. The project has initiated a process of change still in place, following five steps carried out in the first year: World Cafè, report, planimetry, planning.

Building on the sustainable and integrated approach

The project is an example of an integrated approach to problem solving because the actions undertaken have involved a number of issues and aspects, which not only aim to rethink and respect the environment and public space, but also to set in motion a participatory dynamic, forward-looking city, a future of dialogue and discussion to a participatory and responsible community.
From an economic and environmental sustainability point of view, the project has led to the redevelopment of public green spaces, without building large fixed structures but rather based on the existing environmental and focusing on its potential. The playful devices were made with materials selected from among those stored in municipal nursery: all of natural origin (wood and stone) or recovery, thus ensuring a low economic and environmental sustainability impact.
In terms of social sustainability, that process has created a community around a green space through the exchange of ideas in which all citizens had the right to participate. The community that has formed feels responsible for the care and respect of the space. In the project, participation and collaboration included more levels of relationships: the child, the educator, the family, citizenship, the immigrant population and the political, technical and administrative staff of the Municipality of Macerata.

Based on a participatory approach

From the earliest stages of the project, the participation of parents and educators has been essential. The people involved were invited to reflect on outdoor education and have strengthened the relationships between parents and educators. They created an important working group, which despite different knowledge and languages, had a common objective: the well-being of the child.
One constant was the involvement of technicians, managers and directors in choosing the project for each child-care centre in the light of ideas and suggestions arising from meetings with parents and educators. Periodically educators, parents and an educational coordinator would meet to share project activities and learn about the progress. A meeting of the collective has also been extended to political and administrative figures, schools and child-care centres.
The project is also very focused on communication, creating a network that relies on social media, the web and e-mail.

What difference has it made?

From a social and environmental point of view, the tangible results were the respect and attention of the citizens and public administration for the public area of the neighbourhood. The sharing and use of this place has strengthened the relationships among those who live here, and stimulated the sense of community. Sharing a path and a plan, along with direct participation have created a community that cares about the place, making it a safe space for people of different ages and cultures.
For each child-care centre, an intervention has been chosen to be carried out within the first year of the project. To date, the project has produced very positive results, showing the need for stakeholders to think of a child's growth and development needs in new ways. There are many changes taking place in the child-care centres: a closer relationship of trust between educators and parents, a desire to use more and better outdoor facilities, leading to the introduction of new materials and the creation of experiential contexts, a path based on observation and documentation of small transformations.
Number of requalified spaces: 5 surfaces totalling 4352,00 sq.m.
Number of children involved: 186
Number of families: 186 (about 558 people) Associations, organisations involved: Gus, la Meridiana, Cosmari

Why should other European cities use it?

The project has already been replicated in other small towns in our territory. The project has enjoyed great recognition thanks to its selection in the “Space Stories” of the international conference "Education, Earth, Nature", a conference for introducing new tools and educational strategies to increase in children the feeling of being part of an ecosystem. It also promoted respectful behaviour towards the environment and at the same time helping them to achieve well-being, skills and independence.
In fact it is an increasingly common practice, one in which the recipients of individual interventions are the protagonists of a process designed to promote sociality, relational skills and building a shared socio-cultural identity, regardless of cultural contexts of origin. The experience was also shared in the national network S.L.U.R.P (Spazi Ludici Urbani a Responsabilità Partecipata), in which the association Les Friches has been included since 2012. The network involves local residents (and especially children) in design, implementation and management, and is based on a principle of "shared responsibility".