polis: a collective blog about cities worldwide

Public Space for Children in Ghana

by Chris Berthelsen

In Africa’s rapidly growing cities, the pace of development has left few safe play areas for children. The Mmofra foundation works to foster creative and capable change-makers in Ghana and Africa as a whole, with a strong focus on informal space and child-centered design. Based on the belief that child-centered design can promote urban vitality, their work builds resources for other growing African cities as well, serving as a model of frugal and effective international collaboration.

Outdoor play in Ghana, from the 1962 photo essay Playtime in Africa.

Ghana’s population has a median age of 21, with 40 percent under 15 years old. Its burgeoning cities are not equipped with sufficient public space for children, who make their own play areas in often unsafe or unsuitable environments. In response to these conditions, Mmofra started the Playtime in Africa initiative to turn a two-acre plot in Accra’s Dzorwulu neighborhood into a sustainably designed children’s park. They have used social media, word of mouth and a growing number of like-minded global collaborators (architects, planners, engineers, educators and artists) to develop ideas and tools for concrete action.

Playtime Africa site in Accra’s Dzorwulu neighborhood.

Last May, Mmofra collaborators — from international specialists to local teenagers and community leaders — gathered in Ghana for a charrette aimed at drafting a plan for the Dzorwulu site. The well-documented event resulted in a practical template that can be used in other African cities as well. It includes brainstorming sessions on parks and play with local youth, mapping ideas onto the physical site, integration of remote contributions, and strategies for sustainable use of resources. Project leader Ralph Sutherland is now working on a masterplan based on charrette work with Architecture for Humanity fellows and students from the Ghana-based KNUST School of Architecture. Open documents, along with Mmofra Pinterest and Delicious sites, serve as knowledge repositories and sources of inspiration.

Developing ideas at a Playtime in Africa design charrette.

With the masterplan underway, the next stage begins with a call for partners and supporters to help realize the project. Design Through Discovery, a team of 6 students from the Technical University of Delft, will visit Accra this fall to collaborate with Mmofra in designing tools and equipment for the park. The Playtime in Africa initiative offers practical lessons in distributed collaboration. I am inspired by Mmofra’s ability to make even bit-part collaborators like me feel welcome, and by the way they effectively communicate and document their process.

You can learn more about the Playtime in Africa initiative and how to participate at Mmofra Ghana or Friends of Mmofra. Mmofra is especially interested in partnerships related to ideas and skills, equipment and labour, purchases and donations, and support and feedback. They look forward to working with anyone interested in getting involved.

Further Reading

Imagining a Better Future” by Alex Smith of Playgroundology, on the origins of Mmofra and the work of founder Efua Sutherland

Desiging Cities with Children in Mind” by project leaders Amowi Phillips and Rachel Phillips, on Mmofra and Playtime in Africa

Playtime in Africa — A Charrette” by KNUST students Kooko Odonkor and Emmanuel Kusi Ofori-Sarpong, on their experience working on the project

Chris Berthelsen is the founder of a-small-lab.

Credits: Images from the Mmofra Foundation.

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