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Detail: Chicklet, Parachute, Pitcher, Roundabout, Mickey Mouse are not unrelated words. These are just a few names out of the 40 odd games that children of Khirkee � a semi-urban area of South Delhi � have invented while playing outdoors. This is what urban designer Sudeshna Chatterjee discovered on a two-month long project with a non-profit, Khoj, when she got to interact with these kids and discovered that playing outdoors is often trivialized and misunderstood by adults. Moreover from the perspective of planning in Delhi, provisions for recreation, leisure or sports seem to be automatically considered adequate for accommodating outdoor play.

Says Chatterjee: �Ordinarily children provide for their own play by creating territories in accessible public space. However, in the context of a mega city such as Delhi, this right is not so obviously exercised by children anymore. Why I chose Khirkee to study play is because Khirkee occupies a unique urban location being on the margins of shiny new mega malls and corporate hospitals. Khirkee�s growing real estate potential is threatening to overwhelm the existing settlement through continuous construction activity by local builders.�

Chatterjee titled her project Play@Khirkee and believes that this study will help urban planners to make provisions for children with the goal of enhancing the latter�s social participation through play in urban space and city life.

Studying places of play in Khirkee threw up some other interesting facts as well � slum kids had a larger repertoire of games compared to those from a middle class background. Also poorer kids showed far greater imagination when it came to playing outdoors, and most importantly, they didn�t need as many equipments as the more well-off children for playing.

Talking about the future of �play� in an urban context, Chatterjee mentions that we need to consider �playworkers� who facilitate and enrich a child�s play instead of supervisors or security guards who do just the opposite to maintain �beautified landscapes in parks�.

The second suggestion, and definitely a more radical one, that Chatterjee makes is for society to facilitate the concept of �Play-On-Wheels�. �Imagine a cart containing loose parts that could set up play structures in barren playgrounds for under-privileged kids and provide interesting loose parts to middle class children in more rigid, rule bound playgrounds. Such carts can come around each day, be managed by local youth volunteers who serve as playworkers.�

While Khoj has taken the lead and has already planning such a cart that will criss-cross Khirkee area, perhaps it�s time for other members of the civil society to also lend their support. And let the play begin.

Here are some more links that talked about Play@Khirkee.
Date: October 12 2011