Ball games in public spaces – from the “football cage” to multi-functional playing areas
By Dagmar Grimm-Pretner, Karl Grimm
The extensive grid development in Vienna during the 19th century has not left much room for public and private free spaces. The small parks are often the size of a tenement building around the perimeter – they are called “Beserlparks” (small parks) by the Viennese – and are heavily used. Nearby free spaces are supposed to fulfil numerous requirements. For several decades the parks were designed with specific functions in mind and areas dedicated to various uses were arranged next to one another. One of the areas that belonged to the standard amenities in these parks was an enclosed football pitch measuring only a few hundred square meters – known as “football cage” in Vienna. It would often be situated in the centre of the park and would dominate the small green areas acoustically and in terms of atmosphere. The boys’ and girls’ different play, sport and activity interests were barely taken into consideration, because awareness of the problem was missing as well as approaches to solving the problems.
Empirical studies during the late 1980s proved that girls used public parks and spaces considerably less than boys of the same age. The causes behind why girls used these spaces less are complex, but the design of the public free spaces and how they were equipped play an important role. Between 1998 and 2009 the City of Vienna’s Leitstelle Alltags- und Frauengerechtes Planen und Bauen (headquarters of an organisation with the task of evaluating planning and building projects to ensure they meet every day and women’s needs) has continued to establish and develop gender sensible planning. Since its inception, ideas, strategies and structural measures have been tested and implemented in order to increase equal opportunities, and to design parks so that they are equally attractive to girls and boys.
The free space quality of a district is essentially determined by quantity, variety of what is on offer, multi-functionality, identity and the state of preservation of the space. The football pitch is an important single component in this equation as with its area it can serve to reduce the availability of public spaces or it can have an integrative role as an exercise area for everyone.
In the classic football cage, mesh walls reaching 5-6 metres in height and a cover net replace the missing buffer zones outside the pitch. This makes powerful shots possible without the ball leaving the playing field. The opportunity to play the game without constraints supports the exclusive utilisation of the space and sees older youths displace children and male users displace female users.
A desired increase in the number of usage possibilities and more openness for different user groups will be achieved using the pre-existing, very limited space restrictions by the variation and combination of just a few design concepts:
The closed cage will be opened. This will be achieved by increasing the size of the entrance areas by removing pieces of the side mesh nets or by replacing the ball nets with landscaping works. The area, which will no longer be completely enclosed, will require more considerate ways of playing. Seating opportunities, a good ground covering and a good view of the playing field help improve the atmosphere and present an opportunity to be a part of the event even when not actively participating.
The mono-functionality of the football cage is broken up with the addition of further resources such as basketball hoops or volleyball courts. Even simple hard surfaces on the apron approaching the football field provide the opportunity for a multitude of playful activities. The cage allows a full-blooded game to take place, while outside the cage, other ball games or less strenuous activities are possible. All of the groups playing can see one another and a quick change of playing field is possible when one becomes available.
Another approach is the division of the playing area inside the cage. A number of pitches are being divided up to accommodate seating, urban trees or low fences. The distinctly physical activities are slowed down because the ball lands in other playing areas. However, the entire ball game area remains screened.
These few basic approaches make numerous solutions possible, depending on the basic conditions of the location. A number of variations have been realised in Vienna in recent years.
A lack of space in the available free spaces cannot be rectified by rearranging the layout alone. Social education approaches help existing group hierarchies to break through. This so-called ‘Looking after the Park’ concept was first put into practice in Vienna in 1993.
The development of the football pitches from cages to multi-functional activity areas can be viewed as a forerunner for additional claims on public free spaces. In future, increased emphasis will be on the overlapping of different functions in small public free spaces. Several developments support this tendency: Club sports are not as important as they once were and the public realm is being turned to more often than before by adults seeking to exercise and enjoy sporting activities. Society is ageing and taking part in more sport as it does so. Health and well being, and maintaining physical fitness are motives that see more people over the age of 50 being active in sport. This group is also looking for suitable and appealing exercise opportunities in the public realm.
From a structural point of view, the continued development of ground coverings and ball catching equipment is required in order to reduce noise emissions and fulfil sports medicine requirements.
Creative spatial and design solutions combined with innovative materials are a must to secure high quality free spaces in densely populated districts in future.
Ass.Prof. Dipl.-Ing. Dr. Dagmar Grimm-Pretner (Institut für Landschaftsarchitektur (ILA) /Universität für Bodenkultur Wien) (Institute for Landscape Architecture, ILA) / (University of Natural Resources and Life Sciences, Vienna)
Dipl.-Ing. Karl Grimm (Karl Grimm Landschaftsarchitekten Wien) (Karl Grimm Landscape Architects, Vienna)