Ecological Citizenship: Rethinking Play Spaces for Sustainable Communities

By Daniel Knox

In a time when environmental sustainability is vital, the concept of Ecological Citizenship has become increasingly relevant. Our role as citizens in our communities extends beyond just living in harmony with nature, it involves actively contributing to the well-being of our environment. My Visualising Research image of an old children's play area being replaced by a less eco-friendly structure on the banks of the river Dee encapsulates the heart of Ecological Citizenship, prompting us to reconsider our responsibilities as stewards of the Earth. This blog will explore the importance of Ecological Citizenship and how rethinking our approach to play spaces can empower us to promote sustainable change and foster resilience within the next generation through thoughtful, inclusive, product design.

As Programme Leader and Lecturer in Product Design, I am currently a co-investigator on the Ecological Citizen(s) project, a Royal College of Art based project in collaboration with the University of York's Stockholm Environment Institute and Wrexham University. As a research network, the four-year project will “mobilise diverse groups of people to make impactful change through accessible technology and community-focused approaches.”

The Essence of Ecological Citizenship
Ecological Citizenship incorporates a broader perspective of our roles within communities. It calls upon us to question the decisions we make in our everyday lives and the impact on the environment they have. In the case of the image, the replacement of the old play area with a costly, maintenance-intensive, and less eco-friendly structure poses questions. Are we making the right choices to promote sustainability, and are we instilling the values of resilience and responsible environmental stewardship in future generations? Should we consider how our play areas are designed?

Play Areas and Ecological Citizenship
Children's play areas are more than just spaces for recreation, they are opportunities to instil ecological and sustainable values from a young age. The play area on the banks of the river Dee, surrounded by flourishing wildlife, represents a coexistence between human activity and nature. The riverbank and surrounding area is, or could be, an outdoor classroom where children and citizens could learn about the environment through play, forging a connection to the natural world.

The replacement of this idyllic scene with a shiny, metal play area carries ecological implications. The environmental cost of producing and maintaining such structures is high, and these structures may not be accessible or suitable for children of all abilities. As responsible ecological citizens, we must critically assess such decisions. Can we redesign and repurpose play areas in a way that benefits both the community and the environment, whilst also being fun? Can we create spaces that encourage proactive change and foster a deep connection with nature and the environment?

Thoughtful Product Design and Ecological Citizenship
The key to promoting Ecological Citizenship lies in thoughtful product design. We need to prioritise eco-friendly materials and consider the long-term environmental impact of the structures we build. Instead of replacing our stereotypical play areas with flashy alternatives, we can revamp existing spaces in ways that promote sustainability and inclusivity.

For example, the new play area could have been designed using recycled or repurposed materials. It could have featured elements that educate children about the local ecosystem and sustainability, sparking their interest in protecting and prolonging it. The creation of community gardens, allotments, wildflower meadows, and bug hotels are all examples of how this space could have been used better. Additionally, making play areas accessible to children of all abilities would ensure that everyone can connect with nature and benefit from the experience.

Our choices, both large and small, have consequences for the environment and the future generations who will inherit it. We must strive for more thoughtful, sustainable, and inclusive design, reimagining play spaces as opportunities to foster resilience and inspire active ecological citizenship.

As we consider this image and the questions it raises, let us embrace the opportunity to become better stewards of the Earth, and through our actions, empower our communities and the next generation with the values of ecological responsibility and resilience. Together, we should shape a future where our children not only play in harmony with nature, but also actively contribute to its thriving existence.

To find out more about the Ecological Citizen(s) project, please contact Daniel Knox