Creating a playful path to connect health, nature-based play and safety


Vig, Denmark

arki_lab ApS – Designing cities with people

Partner organisations:
Odsherred Municipality; Vig Kindergarten; Vig School; local association Skønhed og Skrald (Trash and Beauty)


Scale of proximity:
City, Neighbourhood

Target beneficiaries:
Children 5+; Caregivers

Connecting inaccessible places with a new playful path

Our design concept and proposal, A Playful Path, connects inaccessible places across the city of Vig, Denmark, with a new playful pathway system activating places with new possibilities for experiences and recreation. Our design proposal suggests adding safe crossings and wayfinding along this pathway, as well as creative and educational spaces for rest, play and learning.

The design proposal considers the Proximity of Care dimensions of Protection and Stimulation for young children and caregivers across both the neighbourhood and the city scale

Our vision at arki_lab is to design cities with communities through a bottom up process where we provide a voice for everyone through local engagement with stakeholders and residents. True democratic planning requires engaging those who can not yet be heard through voting; we therefore prioritise engaging young people in our projects as their opinions are valuable and important to ensure livable cities for generations to come. We specialise in developing creative methods to ensure inclusive and democratic citizen engagement and continually strive to learn and apply new aspects to our approach.

Understanding the needs of young children and their caregivers

Our design of A Playful Path is based on experiences and issues shared by caregivers from Vig. This is since we believe that engaging those most affected by a design and integrating their ideas builds an invaluable sense of ownership within a neighbourhood. Building upon previous engagement with caregivers, local associations, the municipality, daycare employees and school children aged 5+ through drawing workshops and interactive board games, additional interviews were undertaken with caregivers oriented around the Proximity of Care Dimensions of Health, Support, Stimulation and Protection.

In the process of creating our design proposal for the Proximity of Care project, we were unable to carry out an engagement process directly with local young children aged 0-5. This was since our usual engagement methods required reading and writing which could not be applied when working with children of such a young age. Despite this, through engagement with caregivers and older children we were still able to gain insights on the issues of safety for young children 0-5 and their ability to play in and learn from nature as a part of a healthy everyday life.

The caregivers provided insights on their daily routines with their children, and many described the importance for them in accessing nature throughout the seasons as part of a daily routine of stimuli. They however faced challenges in relation to road safety, accessibility to green spaces, as well as a lack of paving and shelters in green spaces to cope with rainy, cold and windy weather.

Engagement with caregivers of young children at local daycare centres provided insights into their everyday routines and the needs of their children

Designing for young children and their caregivers

Even though we see the great importance of including the young, we had not specifically targeted working with children in the age of 0-5 years of age before. Therefore it was interesting to extend our existing understanding and local knowledge of the site and use of the city with the early childhood development perspective and aspects of the Proximity of Care Design Guide. It helped us consider how to include this additional young perspective within our understanding of the site, and what additional design considerations could be made to enhance their wellbeing.

For example, caregivers and early childcare practitioners expressed how challenging it can be to keep a group of 15-20 children safe when crossing different types of roads, or in riding the heavy cargo bikes out into the unpaved landscape to access the bigger playgrounds designed for older children.

The playful elements in our project are therefore designed in different sizes and natural materials to suit different bodies and encourage children to interact with elements throughout the city. Stepping stones, small huts, light poles, child-height signage, locally sourced outdoor art pieces, shelters and benches with different seating options provide a variety of play and pause.

The proposed designed incorporates a variety of elements to benefit young children as well as their caregivers and the wider community

Reflections on the Proximity of Care approach

When designing with the Proximity of Care design guide principles it’s important to understand the needs of the community your project is supporting. Make sure you identify and engage with a range of target audiences and stakeholders to understand their needs, challenges and common benefits to ensure your design creates positive change for as many people as possible.

When designing for caregivers and children 0-5 years of age, you also design for the rest of the city by ensuring features and qualities that affect everyone. For example, people of every age and ability in Vig town will benefit from improved access to the surrounding landscape, as they can utilise the pathway system for different purposes; exercising, learning, nature-based playing and other recreational activities of both a solitary or social character.

Designing for small children comes from great communication and collaboration with the observant caregivers who understand, and experience the challenges the children in their care are facing. In our project we did not have the resources to carry out a comprehensive engagement process with the children, and we therefore had to rely mostly on the engagement of caregivers to move forward with the project proposal.

The Proximity of Care approach can be applied to many different contexts around the world. The four dimensions to optimal early childhood development are universal, and designing with this mindset is just as important in a Scandinavian context as any other. Applying the model made us realise potentials and existing qualities for a broader user group with the youngest and most vulnerable users as the baseline.

Links and sources:

Intervention Type
Scales of proximity
Design guide phases

Related posts

Playful Cities Design Guide

Playful Cities Toolkit

Proximity of Care shorts: Espacio Lúdico – Sensing the city