He placed one foot on the ramp, then another and then walked up it. She looked up at me and smiled "He doesn't usually climb... I've never seen him do this".

Representative from Pop up Parks

Pop up Parks is based around the desire to create playful, creative and engaging play areas within urban environments, that encourage children and families to spend more time being playful, creative and active outside the home. The Pop up Parks programme quickly transforms under-used urban places into playful outdoor environments for children, their parents and carers. These spaces are where families live and where they spend time: near to or within housing estates and on community streets (often making use of underused areas of pavement).

The need for Pop up Parks

Insufficient physical activity is a significant issue for young children today. 23% of the youngest children, those just starting school, are either overweight or obese. In areas of deprivation, only 21% of children play outdoors every day near home compared to 71% of their parents when they were a child.

Play opportunities are also seen to have been continually reduced in UK society as a whole. Children have fewer brothers and sisters with whom to play. Less school time is devoted to active play, and public outdoor play spaces are disappearing whilst those that remain are often regarded as unsafe.

Since the 1970s, the area in which children roam without adults has decreased by almost 90%. It is argued children are increasingly enclosed at home, in school and in cars, and within rigid schedules of time. Research suggests that such decreased independence could have negative effects on young children’s well-being development. Research into the causes of social stress, which has been associated with urban environments, has found that an important determinant is the degree in which people feel they have control over their immediate environment. This, in turn, affects their perception of the possible uses of those spaces- for enjoyment, for safe play. 

This was reinforced through stakeholder engagement conducted by the Pop up Parks team which highlighted that many parents no longer view urban existing spaces as appropriate places for outdoor play. Overall, there is a lack of stimulation and opportunity for local outdoor day-to-day play for children under five – including poor use of public realm space. 

One aim of Pop up Parks is to change local perceptions of public space and to encourage local people to take greater ownership of how public space is used.

Pop up Parks: How I got commissioned Knee High winner, Tom Doust of Pop up Parks, shares his tips on how to attract business. Knee High winner, Tom Doust of Pop up Parks, shares his tips on how to attract business.

Feature — 29/04/2016

The family stayed in the park for nearly two hours, making and destroying towers, creating obstacle courses with other children. When his dad finally told him it was time to go to Toys R Us, Tommy refused to put his coat on.

Representative from Pop up Parks

How Pop up Parks creates change

Pop up Parks provides a new local space that encourages children and families to spend more time being playful and creative outside the home. Ultimately the programme looks to transform public space more permanently and to inspire a new way of thinking about urban space and outdoor play.

There are several critical success factors that are unique to Pop up Parks’ approach. These are summarised below:

1. Interactive and creative design of park activities and toys. Pop up Parks reject more traditional “fixed” equipment (e.g. roundabouts, swings) in favour of equipment and activities that are multi-purpose, relatively inexpensive and interact with existing street furniture and features.

2. The parks offer a range of activities for under-fives (from sounds and listening posts and den building to running tracks and ramps), which invite users to re-shape the space. Whilst the park is active, children have the freedom to redefine the space, and the layout of the activities.

3. Pop up Parks are temporary. While some toys and materials may remain, the parks encourage people to use all existing space and local assets more creatively.

4. The parks intentionally disrupt public space and are located in highly visible areas (where possible) to entice passers-by to interact with the space.

5. Pop up Parks are designed to reclaim public space for outdoor play, often displacing other groups of people (e.g. those using space for “anti-social” purposes such as drinking) with families and children.

6. The team can support local groups to create a more permanent play-space. This may be facilitated through the provision new tools and approaches, such as a “Pop up Lock Up” which allows people to keep play equipment in their local space to be used when desired by local families. Alternative changes could come from managers of public space landscaping an area in a different way.


If you're interested in the outcomes of Pop up Parks in terms of in terms of impact upon the health and well-being of children under five and their families please refer to page 14 of the Knee High Design Challenge: Solutions Paper.