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Impact of residential everyday urban spaces conception on children community play behavior and cognitive development: the case of Cairo and Paris

Maya Elnesr

Abstract

This research was initiated with the objective of investigating the potential impact of urban space design on play behavior and child development. Two neighborhoods (in Paris and Cairo) with similar spatial typologies (garden, pedestrian pathways, assembly zone, courtyard, building buffers, and pockets), but with different spatial attributes forming different configurations, were investigated. The study relies on causal comparative survey and intrinsic case study approaches. Data collection was conducted through children behavioral observations on children aged from 5 to 12 , perceptual drawing activities and informal interviews with child-led walks. The children are from middle socio-cultural segments of both societies that helped in understanding children’s play in a variety of outdoor settings. The assembled data was analyzed within the shadow of Trialectic Space and Affordances theories to the two neighborhoods, where children perception to their lived ambiance was identified. Trialectic theory helps in comprehending the difference between the conceived space by designers, the perceive space by children, and the resulted lived space. Affordance theory helps to link the environmental characteristics and the users’ behaviors according to their capabilities. Based on the analyzed data, the study identified a set of specific spatial physical aspects and functional qualities “potentialities” associated to children experiences and their space preferences. The study recommended that urban planners should extract themes essential for creating “child friendly” environment.

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1. Introduction

1“Play” is a freely chosen process, personally directed and basically motivated. Children play while following their own ideas and interests, in their own way for their own reasons (Garvey 1990). Children explore, discover, and understand the world through play. Active play is also recognized to be important to proper child development (Blinkert 2004). It is important for the physical, social, emotional, and cognitive development of children (Metin 2003).

2The literature distinguished two types of play behavior, cognitive and social play types (Gravey 1990, Santrock 1994, Rubin 2001, Hughes 2010). In cognitive play, children improve their role playing, problem solving, and constructing abilities. It is classified in various patterns including functional play, constructive play, exploratory play, dramatic play, games-with-rules, and non-play behaviors (no play). Based on the definitions provided by Rubin (2001) the different cognitive types of play were operationalized as follows:

  • Functional play: simple repetition of muscle movement, with or without objects.

  • Constructive play: the child links previous knowledge of functional play to manipulate objects towards a direct goal, which can be a construction or a creation.

  • Exploratory play: the child obtains visual or auditory information from an object to receive cognitive information.

  • Pretend play: an imitative activity in which a child imagines and acts out various internal and social roles and situations, such as rocking a doll, pretending to be a doctor, nurse, or school teacher.

  • Games-with-rules: is a level of play that imposes rules that must be followed by the players. Games-with-rules are often characterized by logic and order, and, as children grow older, they can begin to develop strategy and planning in their game playing.

  • No Play: coded during on-looking, transitional, conversation, or unoccupied behavior.

3As for the social interaction perspective, the literature explained that this play type provides unique child development opportunities to develop cooperation and leadership skills. During social play children develop a variety of skills, attitudes, and social relationships. Furthermore, Rubin (2001) designated solitary, parallel and group play as follows:

  • Solitary play: the child plays alone or independently to others.

  • Parallel play: the child engages in the same play activity as another child but plays independently beside, but not with.

  • Group play: the child plays with others in mutual acknowledgement.

4Research linked different types of play to specific development aspects. For example, functional play promotes physical development (Barbour 1999), while constructive play and dramatic play promote cognitive development (Lillard et al. 2013). Group play and games-with-rules promote social development (Coplan et al. 2015). Children functioning and play behavior at each level of development is varying across different domains and cultural context, as well as across different conditions and situations (Percy-Smith 2004, Valentine 2004); however, there are still some features that characterize each age group (Piaget 1956, Hoff 2003). Santrock (1994), in his book “Child Development”, further identifies four periods of development.

5During the earliest stage the “Toddlerhood”, from birth until about three years old, he explained that children learn about the world through basic actions such as sucking, grasping, looking, and listening (Piaget 1956, Santrock 1994). As for the “early childhood”, it encompasses children between three and five/six years old. Children begin to think symbolically and learn to use words and pictures to represent objects. At this stage, they tend to be egocentric and struggle to see things from the perspective of others. While they are getting better with language and thinking, they still tend to think about things in very concrete terms. Family is still focus of life, although other children become more important. Fine and gross motor skills and strength improve. Independence, self-control, and self-care increase. Play, creativity, and imagination become more elaborate. Cognitive immaturity leads to many “illogical” ideas about the world (Piaget 1956, Santrock 1994).

6Regarding the “middle childhood”, which is termed as the concrete operational period stage, the child’s thought become more logical and organized. Middle childhood is a period grouping children between five/six and twelve years old (Hoff 2003). In diverse cultures, this period is regarded as the beginning of the ''age of reason'' (Rogoff et al. 1975). This age is characterized by the sense of exploration as the child’s world expands outward from the family. The child’s attachment to the family lessens and it is the time when children move to the wider social contexts that strongly influence their development (Chawla 1992). In the “Adolescence stage”, encompassing children over the age of twelve, the egocentrism of the previous stage begins to disappear as kids become better at thinking about how other people might view a situation (Piaget 1956, Santrock 1994).

7Thus, this research focuses mainly on children in “middle childhood” between five and twelve years old, since they are the heaviest users of the outdoor environments and the physical environment (Piaget 1956, Chawla 1992, Hoff 2003). Furthermore, Chawla (1992), describes the middle childhood years as a special age when children have the greatest chance to “explore an ever-expanding repertoire of reachable places, in search of new experiences”.

8Much research recently highlighted the impact of play, particularly outdoor play, in increasing levels of physical activity and children’s well-being by enhancing their opportunities to understand and respect the natural world (Fjortoft 2004). However, children seem to be getting fewer opportunities for outdoor play. Children presence in local community spaces, as living streets, neighborhoods, and public spaces seems to be declining dramatically in recent decades (Lester and Russell 2008). Hence, children are usually surrounded by places created by adults and specified to their use. Unwelcoming attitudes towards children coupled with fears of public realm have restricted outdoor community play, despite the evidence that has documented the beneficial value of playing in natural environments within local communities. It is a result of a combination of poor play environments, busy school schedules, adult supervision, and imposed structured activities, which meant that this beneficial and basic right has become sidelined and often perceived as an ‘unaffordable luxury’ for children (Elkind 2008).

9This sequence linked the scoop to historical perspective of child presence in city and their place preferences, especially the residential street and neighborhood play. Residential streets and neighborhoods are the original spaces encompassing free self-directed play (Matthews 2003, Lacey 2007). Many qualitative studies indicated that residential streets are attractive for children due to their variety, diversity and complexity (Moore 1987, Matthews 2003). After the passage of functionalism and other modern town planning theories favorable to cars, increaseed road traffic and environmental issues, a strong desire arose to put the pedestrian at the center of development projects. Thus, in modern cities, children play environments have changed from previous generations’.

10Children have their own way of perceiving, experiencing, and understanding urban spaces, different from adults’. In order to understand child's space in city, it is important to appeal to a sensitive ecological approach that allows to associate the ambiance, the spatial configurations, children’s body in space, their movements, and their perceptions of the physical properties in the surrounding environment (Breviglieri 2015).

11Consequently, there is an increasing interest in children experience and preferences of places (Moore 1987, Cele 2006, Breviglieri 2015). Additionally, there is an increasing attention in presenting a perspective that understands children’s own view of play places and the reasons for their place preferences within cities (Moore 1986, Matthews 1992, Percy-Smith 2004). This interest highlighted the gap between produced spaces by designers and children perceptions depending on their capabilities, cultural, social, previous experience as well as background and resulted lived space with its specific ambiance adopting their needs and behaviors.

2. Research objectives

12Based on the assembled literature and the provided elaboration, there are few recent studies that investigated children lived experiences in their daily urban spaces where they play freely. Accordingly, this research was initiated with the main objective of investigating the impact of spatial porosity, elaborated as the outer boundary’s degree of closure or openness of different daily urban spaces’ territory and inner spatial permeability between different included spatial typologies, on the children presence and their play behaviors. Moreover, the study examines how different included spatial typologies (assembly zones, playgrounds, pathway networks, gardens, green belts, and courtyards) promote different patterns of play behavior and different children perceptions.

13The secondary objective of the study is to explore the potential role of specific spatial physical aspects and functional qualities forming different configurations, independently from the spatial typology itself, on offered play opportunities for children, sensible experiences and ambiance of children’s lived spaces. The above association is defined by Marc Breviglieri (2015) as “spatial potentialities”. Accordingly, the study proposed a set of spatial potentialities that focuses on:

  1. Entity of activity setting: The entity of activity setting is achieved in terms of the presence of single or multiple spatial experience or behavioral settings separated by activity routes, and good functional definition of the display space to the activity in the setting (Podolska 2014).

  2. Flow continuity and fluidity: It is achieved by the presence of clear definition of activity loops/routes that has been suggested to encourage smooth flow of play and high chance of playability (Cosco et al. 2010).

  3. Diversity of ground materials: It can be achieved by diversity in texture, color, and materials (Christidou et al. 2013).

  4. Topographic Variability: Variability in ground levels is achieved by offering places to play above or below the ground (Fjortoft 2004).

  5. Presence of different urban spatial features: Elements or equipment that can be changed, modified or manipulated; interactive features; diversity in scale; dynamic place that change continuously or can be modified; place that can be rearranged; plants and animals; flexible materials; elements stimulating senses (Zamani 2013).

3. Research methodology

14Research methodology was intended to encompass site description and data collection. The methodology planned to capture children's experience in the city, which is considered to be complex and multifaceted. The proposed approach tackles the problem in a multidisciplinary manner, in terms of geography, anthropology, psychology of child development, and environmental psychology.

15Accordingly, the research strategy relies on “causal comparative survey research approach” and “intrinsic case study” (Groat and Wang 2013). These strategies help in comparing different urban spaces in terms of the occurrence of the different types of cognitive and social play behaviors and to better understand the “Ambient envelop” of these spaces. The strategies might offer an understanding of children's play spaces with spatial configurations that satisfy and encourage them. Such spaces are often completely different from what adults believe children seemed to enjoy (Hart 1979, Titman 1994).

3.1 Site description

16The study is conducted in two different urban residential neighborhoods, where each encompasses residences mainly of middle socio-cultural class. These are Abassia residential zone, Cairo, Egypt, which resembles a prototype of Egyptian urban residential streets and Cité jardins residential neighborhood, Paris suburbs (92), France. Both Cairo and Paris are two metropolitan cities. The selected sites encompass similar spatial typologies (garden, pedestrian pathways, assembly zone, courtyard, building buffers, and pockets), but are different in terms of the spatial potentialities as well as the levels of spatial porosity, (Tables 1 and 2). Moreover, the two selected case studies are clearly different in terms of the produced “Ambient envelop” (Said 2010).

17As for Abassia neighborhood in Cairo, it encompasses 9 residential units forming an axial street that represents the participants’ territorial range. It is purely residential zone with an area of 20,000 m2. It is enclosed by a gravel retaining wall and a brick barrier to separate it from a bridge with moderate traffic. The buildings architectural style is functionalist style (shoe-box style). Buildings are 14 floors high with flat roofs and soft colored facades. The existing typologies encompass the “Garden” defined by its different ground materials, short elevated shrubs, and reddish tiled curbs. In addition, they encircle the “Pedestrian circulation pathways network” that is well-defined by interlocking tiles, where it is branched into multiple narrow passages between buildings “AL-Hara” to connect the single entry point to the different spatial typologies achieving a smooth flow. Moreover, the existing typologies enclose the “Assembly zone”, which is defined visually by its elevated level. Furthermore, they encircle the “Courtyard” with its high sense of enclosure, the “Building buffers” with their looped belts surrounding each building and “Building pockets” acting as shelters or storage places or private parking spaces, (Figures 1 and 2).

18Regarding Cité jardins eco-residential neighborhood in Paris suburbs, of an area of 60,000 m2 with 9 sets of residential building clusters. It is densely built with a good integration of green areas. The neighborhood is purely residential surrounded by a wall with eight successive gates. The architecture is inspired by the Haussmann French style. Buildings are 5 floors high with inclined roofs, shed dormers, and soft colored rich decorated facades. The existing typologies encircle the “Garden” that is visually defined as it is elevated from the public assembly zone. In addition, the “Pedestrian circulation pathways network” that is visually well-defined by distinct concrete material, color and levels, as well as physical elements as water streams, shrubs and fences, to connect the entry points to the different spatial typologies with a smooth flow. Moreover, the “Assembly zone and open spaces” are defined by physical boundaries (waterfalls, parapets and stairs flights) to be separated from the semi public/private zone. Furthermore, the existing typologies encircle 4 “Courtyards” that are defined by surrounding building clusters and “Back street”, which is defined by pavement material and metallic posts leading to “Parking zones”. The neighborhood encompasses “Block buffer” for residents only, which is enclosed by fences and private entry code, (Figures 3 and 4).

Table 1: Urban fabric in the two neighborhoods

Table 1: Urban fabric in the two neighborhoods

Table 2: Spatial potentialities in the two neighborhoods

Table 2: Spatial potentialities in the two neighborhoods

Figure 1: Layout of different typologies in Abassia residential neighborhood, Cairo, Egypt

Figure 1: Layout of different typologies in Abassia residential neighborhood, Cairo, Egypt

Figure 2: General view of Abassia residential neighborhood, Cairo, Egypt

Figure 2: General view of Abassia residential neighborhood, Cairo, Egypt

Figure 3: Layout of different typologies in Cité jardins neighborhood, Paris suburbs, France

Figure 3: Layout of different typologies in Cité jardins neighborhood, Paris suburbs, France

Figure 4: General view of Cité jardins neighborhood, Paris suburbs, France

Figure 4: General view of Cité jardins neighborhood, Paris suburbs, France

3.2 Data collection methods

19According to literature, data collection approaches for revealing children experiences of their everyday places are categorized into qualitative and quantitative, or a mixture of both (Punch 2002). Thus, from the methodological point of view, this study intends to rely on an ethnographic approach, adopting multiple data gathering methods described as “mosaic method” that combine quantitative and qualitative techniques (Figure 5). This approach enables the development of a crossed perspective on children appropriate space that reflects the way their lived spaces differ from adults’.

20Fieldwork proceeded through three phases during the site visits that were carried out in similar weather conditions and time of day. An equal gender distribution sample group was selected for each urban space. These two sample groups totalizing 92 randomly selected children were engaged in the field work, with equal gender distribution. As previously mentioned, the active participants of this study were selected from the "middle childhood" age group (between 5 to 12 years) to clarify how they perceived and lived their own places (Hoff 2003). This age range corresponds to the "concrete operational stage" of development, when children develop the sense of peers; begin to favor play in groups; and have diminished family attachment (Piaget 1962).

21The first phase of data collection encompassed child-centered structured behavioral observations. This phase was held to Group A (30 children), for each urban space, to measure the occurrence of free play types, without parental interference. The first phase of data collection was held in group A (30 children). The occurrence of free play types without parental interference was measured for each urban space. Structured observations were complemented by behavioral qualitative observations through descriptive field notes and sketches to observe the children's movements during use of the spaces.

22Each child was observed for 40 minutes. The observational table used was adopted from the tables developed by Cosco et al. (2010) and Podolska (2014). The table helped record how often the child engaged in different types of play in one-minute increments: functional play, constructive play, exploratory play, dramatic play, games-with-rules, and no play as well as, solo play, parallel play, and group play. Children who left the site before the end of the 40 minutes were excluded from the samples and replaced with another. It should be noted that observations were conducted secretly without children noticing they were observed to avoid influencing their behavior.

23The second and third phases were held in Group B (16 children). Children were asked to participate in perceptual cognitive skill activities, namely drawings and photography, to evaluate their perceptual cognitive development and understand their perception of the space. The drawings and photographs were a starting point for a conversation in the third phase which consisted of informal interviews. These interviews discussed details of drawings to obtain basic information about the participants and their secret play settings and occasionally required child-led walks. Children knew that participation in the study was voluntary and that they were free to change their minds and withdraw from the research at any of the stages (Einarsdottir 2007). Cele (2006) mentioned that children may be unwilling to perform research tasks in their spare time, which should be respected. Additionally, consent for participation and the ages of children were provided by parents.

24The above combination of North American quantitative methods, which rely on child-centered observations (Moore 1986) and the qualitative research method that relies on techniques inspired by CRESSON work (Research Center on Sound Space and the Urban Environment) has attracted less attention than previous French studies on children's spaces. Accordingly, the research relied on a multi-sensory socio-ethnographic approach that encompassed quantitative and qualitative techniques, complementing each other to help children express themselves in a way that is clear to adults. This combination provides a clear picture of children's play experience in different spaces.

Figure 5: Multiple data gathering combined methods

Figure 5: Multiple data gathering combined methods

4. Data analysis and results

25This section presents data analysis and results of the two neighborhoods where different tactics were implemented to analyze the collected data. These tactics involved statistical quantitative analysis (i.e. Student's t-tests) and qualitative analysis in order to assess the differences between the two neighborhoods, in terms of the outcome variables (children’s presence, different play behavior types). Moreover, these tactics elaborate children's everyday sensory experiences, environmental perception, preferred places’ ambience, preferences, activities that constitute their daily life, the potential links between aspects of spatial configuration and play opportunities, degree of freedom, gestures’ tactile, and lived spaces, (Figure 6).

26These analysis tactics were held within the shadow of “Trialectic Space Theory” (Lefebvre 1992) and “Affordances theories”, (Gibson 1979) in order to fill in the gap between the view of designers in conceiving designed spaces and the children perception of their lived environments, while considering their culture, social and previous background (Gibson 1979, Bourdieu 1986, Heidegger 1996), (Figure 7).

Figure 6: Data analysis through Trialectic Space and Affordance theories

Figure 6: Data analysis through Trialectic Space and Affordance theories

Figure 7: Affordance theory filling conceptual gaps in the Trialectic Space model

Figure 7: Affordance theory filling conceptual gaps in the Trialectic Space model

27Affordance points to the environment and to the observer (Gibson 1979). Gibson’s affordances introduced the idea of the actor-environment mutuality, where the actor and environment are an inseparable pair. Accordingly, Lefebvre (1992) introduced theoretical studies based on critiques of structuralism, phenomenology, affordances and existentialism, which lead to the construction of three modes of space, described as “trialectic spatiality” (Lefebvre 1992), (1) conceived, (2) perceived, and (3) lived. These space levels help in apprehending the space significance, (Figure 8). The spatial triad introduced by Lefebvre helps in understanding the production of social spaces. Additionally, it helps in analyzing the dynamic use of social spaces through spatial practices and lived experience of users.

Figure 8: Different levels of space

Figure 8: Different levels of space

28The coming section represents the three spatial level analysis (i.e. conceived, perceived and lived) to each site, as follows:

4.1 Abassia residential neighborhood, Cairo, Egypt

29The three spatial level analyses (i.e. conceived, perceived and lived), for Abassia Residential Neighborhood, Cairo, Egypt, are presented, as follows:

4.1 a. Conceived space

30This spatial level investigates the impact of the spatial porosity explained as the degree of openness and closure through spatial defined boundaries of outer space territory and the spatial permeability of inner spatial typologies on the children presence in urban spaces and their play behaviors, where Abassia neighborhood is distinguished by high spatial definition of the territory through low degree of openness or medium degree of closure and an elevated spatial permeability between the existing spatial typologies. Accordingly, the collected data from Abassia neighborhood is analyzed as follows:

31Child-centered structured observations were analyzed to assess occurrence of different play types in the neighborhood, (Figure 9). The cognitive play was distinguished by the prevalence of “games-with-rules play” (tag, hide and seek, competitive sports, and games invented by children requiring negotiation). This play type helps children learn conforming to rules and becoming more socialized. Moreover, “constructive play” (playing with loose bricks to build a house, a tower, or a bridge, playing in the sand to build a sand-castle or using chalk stones to draw a picture), and “dramatic play” (children extract and imitate the surrounding socio-cultural community) were the 2nd and 3rd prevailing play types, with almost equal occurrences. While for social play, there was a clear difference between “group play” and “solo and parallel play” types, where 29 children were observed to engage in “group play” for 862 minutes, with a mean of 29.7 minutes per engaged child. Unlike the “solo play”, 16 children were observed to engage for 84 minutes, with a mean of 5.25 minutes per engaged child.

32However, no statistically significant difference was revealed from the Student t-test, between genders relative to cognitive and social play types, where p-value greater than 0.1, except for the dramatic play in favor to girls (p-value less than 0.01). This might be related to the culture, as girls were observed to be involved in playing with dolls and acting roles performed by others, as pretending to be a school teacher, cooking and maternal duties. For boys, roles reflecting female duties are not welcomed by community traditions or parents. The boys’ acting roles reflected a patriarchal society. This could be attributed to the fact of genders inequality in the community.

33Data from the behavioral qualitative observation sessions were analyzed to investigate using a collective behavioral mapping of children presence in the different space typologies. “Pathways and alleys” were an obvious first choice, followed by “Courtyards” and “Block buffers as well as buildings’ pockets”, with their different forms and configuration, were observed to highly encourage the children presence, where they encompassed 2/3rd of the sample (Figure 10). Unlike the “Garden” that attracted the least attention of children followed by the “Open assembly zone”. This might be attributed to the fact that the “Garden” refers to children’s anxiety from their parents, as they are pre-notified not to spoil their clothes with mud. However, this occurs according to norms, where nature is not integrated in the daily life, as a child quoted that his mother warned that “nature is to watch, but not to interfere with”. Likewise, “Open assembly space” was neglected by children and rarely referred to by children. This might be attributed to their fear of dogs since they refer to them as dogs’ territory place. This indicated that children fears upgraded dogs’ space to place.

Figure 9: Amount of observed "cognitive play" and "social play"

Figure 9: Amount of observed "cognitive play" and "social play"

Figure 10: Children presence percentage in different typologies

Figure 10: Children presence percentage in different typologies

4.1 b. Perceived space

34This spatial level examines how the included spatial typologies (garden, pedestrian pathways, assembly zone, courtyard, building buffers, and pockets) promote different play patterns associated with different perceptions of the neighborhood. Accordingly, the collected data from the different included spatial typologies was further analyzed as follows:

35Data from child-centered structured observations of play behavior was further analyzed to assess the differences between space typologies in terms of the occurrence of cognitive and social play types, where pathways, courtyards, back streets, and parking zones mainly promoted “games-with-rules”, in social “group play” form. “Pathways” and narrow alleys “AL-HARA” with their linear and looped forms shaded by buildings were observed to encourage long concentration activities as competitive “games with rules” followed by “dramatic and role playing”. “Courtyards”, with their high sense of enclosure, were observed to encourage more “dramatic play”. However, “Block buffers, pockets, Back streets, and parking zones” supported “constructive play” due to the high presence of loose materials such as tires, bricks, ladders, water hoses, unneeded home items, bottles, tanks, and wooden boxes left from street vendors.

36These spatial typologies with their different configurations affording different play patterns enhanced children mental perception of the neighborhood and implemented learned as well as experienced notions that appeared in the perceptual cognitive skill documentations (drawing and photography) and informal interviews.

37The perceptual cognitive skills data were analyzed from children’s drawings, where different criteria were independently rated on a 5-points Likert scale that was rated as an average of 3 by independent professionals. Regarding the age below 7, two criteria (accuracy of elements represented and amount of represented detail in elements) were considered, where it was noticed that most of the children have high perception of many details in the represented elements. In addition, they were aware of the natural elements, shade, and climate. Moreover, they were aware of the single experience settings and the different typologies (the garden offering them secret and mysterious spaces). As for the age above 7, six criteria were considered (accuracy of represented elements, amount of detail in the represented elements, accuracy of overall neighborhood scene, amount of details in overall scene, visual realism in terms of accuracy of spatial relationships, visual realism in terms of perspective and representation of depth) (Piaget 1956). Likewise, it was noticed that most of the children have high perception so as accuracy of the represented elements and are aware of the different typologies that offer them secret places and mysterious spaces. In addition, they were aware of the single experience settings in the neighborhood and the presence of topographic variety as the surrounding retaining wall that provides sense of enclosure. Moreover, their drawing indicated their perception of the different materials and textures through using colors, (Figures 11 and 12).

38A Student t-test was performed to assess the differences between girls and boys in relation to perceptual skills, where there was no significant difference between genders in relation to different cognitive criteria (p-value was greater than 0.1).

Figure 11: Cognitive skills assessment test, drawing sample (below age 7)

Figure 11: Cognitive skills assessment test, drawing sample (below age 7)

Figure 12: Cognitive skills assessment test, drawing sample (over age 7)

Figure 12: Cognitive skills assessment test, drawing sample (over age 7)

4.1 c. Lived space

39This spatial level explores the potential associations between various spatial potentialities and children play opportunities, degree of freedom, gestures’ tactile, lived spaces, and ambiance. Accordingly, data from the behavioral qualitative observations sessions, informal interviews and walks were analyzed, highlighting the potential role of the 5 suggested spatial potentialities forming different spatial configurations. These were (1) Entity of activity setting, (2) Flow continuity and fluidity, (3) Diversity of ground materials, (4) Topographic Variability, and (5) Presence of different urban spatial features. In Abassia residential zone, these potentialities are elaborated, as follows:

1. Entity of activity settings: Every included spatial typology is considered as a single whole well-defined activity setting. Observations revealed that single activity settings were associated with longer activities and social interactions. It was observed that a single spatial setting provides a flexible variety of play experiences and children could shape them according to their will. Observations noted that single activity settings encouraged “games with rules”, “constructive play” and “dramatic play”, more specifically in a “group play” form.

2. Flow and fluidity: Random flow and fluidity was observed in spatial typologies due to the absence of activity route networks leading to children random movements. Observations documented that absence of activity routes encouraged impulsive play flow and high chance of fights and aggression behaviors.

3. Ground material diversity: Every typology is characterized by poor ground material diversity through the presence of mono- texture, color, and material. Observations documented that children play differently on different materials, where long span activities on same material were observed to provide children with boring environment, loss of place identity, and attachment.

4. Topographic Variability: Ground level variability is achieved in the neighborhood through the presence of stair flights, curbs, climbable gravel retaining wall, ramps, elevated concrete manholes, and brick parapets. Observations noted that such variability promoted functional play, gross motor play, games-with-rules, jumping, tumbling, sliding, and climbing. Ground levels created challenging play experiences with high degrees of stimulation, risk taking, and stretching children’s limits by challenging them.

5. The presence of different urban spatial features: The neighborhood encompasses urban seats, pergolas, different types of vegetation (shrubs, trees, and plants), flexible loose materials (tires, bricks, ladders, water hoses, unneeded home items, bottles, tanks, and wooden boxes of street vendors), recessed building pockets, and projected parapets. Observations noted that these features and loose elements increased environment complexity thereby stimulating children curiosity, exploratory behavior, general physical development, and imagination.

4.2 Cité jardins eco-residential neighborhood, Paris, France

40The three spatial level analyses (i.e. conceived, perceived, and lived), for Cité Jardins Eco-Residential Neighborhood, Paris suburbs (92), France, are presented, as follows:

4.2 a. Conceived space

41Unlike Abassia neighborhood, Cité jardins neighborhood is characterized by high spatial definition of the territory through medium degree of openness and elevated spatial permeability between the included spatial typologies. Accordingly, the collected data from Cité jardins residential neighborhood was analyzed as follows:

42The child-centered structured observations were analyzed to assess the occurrence of different play types in the neighborhood (Figure 13). The cognitive play was distinguished by the occurrence of “exploratory play” as prevailing behavior. Children explore their senses by touching different materials and textures, hearing different sounds, smelling grass as well as water in ponds, or watching the properties of different materials (gravity on different objects). Concerning social play, there was clear differences between the “solo play” and “group and parallel play types”, where 29 children were observed to engage in “solo play” for 531 minutes with mean per engaged child of 18.3 minutes. While for “group play” 17 children were observed to engage for 313 minutes with a mean per engaged child of 18.4 minutes.

43The Student t-test results were further analyzed to assess the differences between girls and boys in relation to play types, which revealed that there is no significant difference between genders in relation to different cognitive and social play types (p-value was greater than 0.1).

44The Behavioral qualitative observations sessions were analyzed by mapping the children’s presence in different spatial typologies, (Figure 14). It indicated that “Gardens”, “Pathways”, and “Courtyards” followed by “Open assembly zones” with their different forms and configuration encourage children presence. “Gardens” and “Pathways” encompassed 1/2 of the children sample. This might be attributed to the fact that a diversity in ground material between soft natural grass for gardens and artificial concrete paved pathways offered a great variety of play opportunities with high degree of freedom. “Back streets and parking zones”, that encompassed 8% of children, were perceived by children as unsecured places, where parents do not allow them to play and limit their play territory. “Block buffers” are neglected by children and were rarely referred to, as they are considered as private territories.

Figure 13: Amount of observed "cognitive play" and "social play"

Figure 13: Amount of observed "cognitive play" and "social play"

Figure 14: Percentage of children presence in different typologies

Figure 14: Percentage of children presence in different typologies

4.2 b. Perceived space

45Likewise Abassia residential neighborhood, Cité jardins residential neighborhood encompassed similar spatial typologies (gardens, pedestrian pathways, assembly zone, courtyards and building buffers), but with different configuration, that promoted different patterns of play behavior associated with different children perception. Accordingly, the collected data from Cité jardins neighborhood were analyzed, as follows:

46Child-centered structured observations were further analyzed to assess the differences between space typologies in terms of the occurrence of cognitive and social play types, where the prevalence of “exploratory play”, in all spatial typologies, was identified. Moreover, “Pathways” with their different forms, linear, curved, and looped, afforded more “functional play” and “games with rules”, while “Courtyards” with their sense of enclosure encouraged long concentration activities like “dramatic play”. In addition, “Gardens” and “Back streets as well as parking zones” promoted “games with rules”, while “Open assembly zones” encouraged “functional play”.

47The mentioned spatial typologies with their different configurations enhanced children’s cognitive development through their mental perception of the neighborhood that appeared in perceptual cognitive skills documentations (i.e. drawing and photography) and informal interviews. The perceptual cognitive skills data was analyzed from the children’s drawings with the same criteria as for Abassia neighborhood. In Cité jardins residential neighborhood, most of the children had high perception of the overall scene, surrounding urban context, and building styles. Furthermore, they were aware of the streets as unsecured play zone. Also, they were aware of the multi-experience settings in the neighborhood and the presence of urban spatial feature (water feature and vegetation). Their drawings tend to explain their perception of different materials and textures. In general, for both age groups (younger and older than 7), drawings tended to be with slight complexity with represented elements and details. Moreover, the drawings tended to use variety of colors and to feature natural elements (grass, flowers and trees), where the drawings have good spatial representations for street, zebra lines, cars, and buildings, (Figures 15 and 16).

48Like for Abassia neighborhood, Student t-test results were analyzed to assess the differences between girls and boys relative to perceptual skills, where no significant difference was revealed between genders, in terms to cognitive criteria (p-value was greater than 0.1).

Figure 15: Cognitive skills assessment test, drawing sample (below age 7)

Figure 15: Cognitive skills assessment test, drawing sample (below age 7)

Figure 16: Cognitive skills assessment test, drawing sample (over age 7)

Figure 16: Cognitive skills assessment test, drawing sample (over age 7)

4.2 c. Lived space

49Data from the behavioral qualitative observation’s sessions, informal interviews, and walks were analyzed to explore potential associations between spatial potentialities and children play opportunities, degree of freedom, gestures tactile, lived space, and ambiance. Such associations are required to understand the impact of the potential role of the five suggested spatial potentialities, independently from the spatial typology itself. These are presented in Cité jardins neighborhood, as follows:

1. Entity of activity settings: Unlike Abassia neighborhood, every spatial typology is divided to multi-spatial experience settings with good functional definition that are separated by multiple internal activity routes. Observations noted that defined functional sub-areas are associated with high levels of activity concentration, non-interfered activities, and better flow of play, in the form of “exploratory behavior”, “social interaction”, and “dramatic play”.

2. Flow continuity and fluidity: Presence of clear defined activity routes between activity settings was linked to organized play flow. Observations documented that activity routes promoted various forms of “functional play” such as running and biking. Additionally, networks promoted imagination and dramatic play.

3. Ground material diversity: Every spatial typology is characterized by ground material diversity (concrete pavements with different colors, grass and green belts, wooden stud platforms, concrete tiles, and water cover). Observations documented that diversity promoted various forms of play. For example, hard ground surfaces promoted running, biking, and wheeled toy play. Soft ground surfaces were appropriate for relaxation, group gathering, social interactive among children, tumbling, and acrobatic movements, while there were no wheeled activities.

4. Topographic Variability: Ground level variability is achieved through the presence of sitting steps, stairs, parapets, slopes, cliffs, ramps, and bridges. Observations revealed that topographic variability is associated with more “functional play” and gross motor play (jumping, sliding, and climbing). Additionally, pergolas, bridges, and climbable elements provide children with a full perspective of the surroundings that helped them imagine the world as under their control. Level variability afforded play behavior that develop hand-leg-eye coordination, risk taking, challenge children's abilities, and conquer their fear.

5. The presence of different urban spatial features: Similar to Abassia neighborhood the presence of different interactive features was noticed, such as landmarks (sculptures), elements stimulating senses (waterfalls, and lakes), different types of vegetation (shrubs, flowery plants, large shading trees and plants that provide large shaded areas), natural loose and flexible materials (wooden chips and mud), and urban seats as well as pergolas. Observations revealed that vegetation elements act as attractive elements affording climbing, exploring, and group dramatic play. Additionally, observations suggested that large shaded areas encouraged social play and gatherings. Moreover, diversity in loose parts encouraged children to create and invent. As for the presence of water feature, it helped in promoting creation and imagination, which afforded more constructive play and uninterrupted exploratory play.

5. Discussion and conclusions

50This section presents discussions to the analyzed results. In addition, it provides deduced conclusions and recommendations.

5.1 Discussion

51Discussion is presented, in terms of the spatial triad outcome, as standardized spatial conception and play behaviors; spatial analogy perception and cognitive skills; as well as spatial potentialities and ambient lived envelop, as follows:

5.1.1 Standardized spatial conception an play patterns

52The analyzed results of the two neighborhoods’ layout in terms of spatial porosity indicated that Abassia neighborhood is characterized by medium degree of closure, while Cité jardins neighborhood is characterized by medium degree of openness, through spatial defined boundaries of outer space territory of both neighborhoods. Both have elevated spatial permeability between included spatial typologies achieved by smooth flow in-between, good interaction and linkage to adjacent zones, which provided good circulation network in the neighborhoods.

53The spatial porosity of the conceived layouts seemed to impact children’s play behaviors differently in both neighborhoods, (Figure 17). Further analysis of Student’s t-tests assessed the significant differences between both neighborhoods in the occurrence of cognitive and social play types, (Table 3). Regarding the cognitive play types, the occurrence of “constructive and dramatic play, and games-with-rules” were statistically greater at Abassia residential zone, while the occurrence of “functional and exploratory play” were statistically greater at Cité jardins neighborhood. As for social play types, the occurrence of “group play” was statistically greater at Abassia neighborhood, while “solo play” was statistically greater at Cité jardins neighborhood.

Figure 17: Difference between the amount of observed "cognitive play" and "social play" in the two neighborhoods

Figure 17: Difference between the amount of observed "cognitive play" and "social play" in the two neighborhoods

Table 3: Differences in "cognitive play" and "social play" in the two neighborhoods

Table 3: Differences in "cognitive play" and "social play" in the two neighborhoods

5.1.2 Spatial analogy perception and cognitive skills

54Based on the analyzed results of the behavioral observations and perceptual drawings, children seem to comprehend space as segmented places and do not perceive them as a whole. They classify them as they adapt them to their play experiences, where every spatial typology is associated with a specific play pattern with higher level of specific activities, (Figures 18 and 19). The analyzed results assisted in visualizing the impact of offered affordances of the different typologies on perception, as follows:

55Gardens: In Cité jardins neighborhood, there was prevalence of “exploratory play” due to the presence of multi-spatial experience settings that promoted higher levels of activity concentration for longer time with better play flow. “Constructive play” was of the least prevalence due to the standardized design and the absence of loose element that attracts children to construct their own ideas. In Abassia neighborhood, there was prevalence of “dramatic play” due to the presence of loose elements that promoted children imagination and creativity. “Functional play’ was of the least prevalence due to the absence of hard ground surface with limited level variability that afforded high physical activities to children.

56Pathways and alleys: In Cité jardins neighborhood, “exploratory play” was prevailing due to multiple separated activity settings that promoted higher activity concentration levels for longer times with better flow and helped in converting pathways from transition lines to experimental laboratories. Moreover, looped pathways provided interesting and enjoyable experience for children and added “perceptual complexity” by blocking sight. In Abassia neighborhood, “games-with-rules” were prevailing due to the well-defined highly shaded single activity space separated from the main flow of cars and residents that promoted sense of intimate scale that allowed creation of “identifiable territories”, which promoted children sense of “ownership” and “control”.

57Assembly and open spaces: In Cité jardins neighborhood, “functional play” followed by exploratory play were prevailing activities due to well-defined multi-activity routes separating the multi-activity settings that are characterized by hard ground surfaces and topographic variety, which promoted motor play, but they offered less opportunity for creative activities. In addition, “solo play” was more frequent than “group play”. In Abassia neighborhood, such zones were neglected due to children’s anxieties. They regarded them as “places not designed for child’s play”.

58Courtyards: In Cité jardins neighborhood, “exploratory play” was less prevailing in comparison to other typologies, but “exploratory play” followed by “dramatic play” were the prevailing types in “Courtyards”. More “parallel play” than “group play” was evident. In Abassia neighborhood, “dramatic play and constructive play” were prevailing, while exploratory play was absent. “Group play” was much more frequent than “solo play”.

59Back street and parking zones: In Cité jardins neighborhood, “games-with-rules” are followed by “functional play” due to the presence of ground color diversity that offered challenging complex environment and afforded competitive motor play with fewer creative activities. In Abassia neighborhood, “games-with-rules” are followed by “constructive play” due to the presence of loose elements that challenged to their ideas (old tires and thick ropes) to form various constructions.

60Block buffer and pockets: In Cité jardins neighborhood, “Block buffer and pockets” were almost neglected by the children, as they were fenced and reserved for residents with an entry code. In Abassia neighborhood, “constructive play” was more prevailing rather than other typologies due to the presence of loose elements that triggered the construction of ideas in enclosed and secure zones, which promoted higher levels of activity concentration for longer time that promoted children invention. “Functional play” was of least prevalence due to the absence of elements that stimulate children physically for risk taking and complexity.

61Hence, the same included spatial typologies with different attributes, attracted different types of activities that enhanced different place perceptions, preferences, and cognitive skills. Children used words that express their spatial typology preferences and perceptions according to their different attributes. This was clear in the informal interviews followed by the drawing skill assessment that tended to be of high complexity with great number of represented elements, large number of details, great use of colors, and noticeable presence of natural elements (grass, flowers, and trees).

62Supplementary Student’s t-tests showed that the differences between the two neighborhoods, in terms of drawing skills for both age groups, were not significant. However, concerning the two age groups evaluations criteria, mean ratings of Abassia residential zone drawings were slightly higher than those of Cité jardins neighborhood drawings (Figure 20). Concerning the younger age group, cognitive skills were evaluated by rating drawings in terms of two criteria: (A) accuracy of represented elements and (B) amount of details in represented elements (Piaget, 1956). On the other hand, children older than 7, enter the schematic drawing stage. Accordingly, for the older age group, cognitive skills were evaluated by rating drawings in terms of six criteria: (1) accuracy of represented elements, (2) amount of details in represented elements, (3) accuracy of overall urban space scene, (4) amount of detail in overall urban space scene, (5) visual realism in terms of accuracy of spatial relationships, and (6) visual realism in terms of perspective and representation of depth (Piaget, 1956).

63This might be linked to the advancement of “constructive play” and “dramatic play”, as cognitive play types in Abassia neighborhood, according to Elnesr et al., (2018), where the amount of “constructive and pretend play” indicated associations with cognitive skill development.

64From the analyzed documentation of the cognitive skills and informal interviews in both neighborhoods, apparent was that for children in the age between 5 and 7, their mental perceived properties of space made them implement different learned and experienced notions (Up and down, in and out, sense of hearing sounds, sense of security and freedom, texture recognition by hearing and color, risk taking, challenge, as well as emotional control). As for the children above 7, their mental perceived properties of space made them implement certain notions such as, ownership, environment complexity and diversity, levels, observe and control, sense of isolation due to the water sound, ME not WE, sense of enclosure and protection, culture awareness, imagination, curiosity, and emotional control.

Figure 18: Different cognitive play types afforded by different spatial typologies in Cité jardins neighborhood

Figure 18: Different cognitive play types afforded by different spatial typologies in Cité jardins neighborhood

Figure 19: Different afforded cognitive play types by different spatial typologies in Abassia neighborhood

Figure 19: Different afforded cognitive play types by different spatial typologies in Abassia neighborhood

Figure 20: Difference in evaluations of drawings between the two neighborhoods

Figure 20: Difference in evaluations of drawings between the two neighborhoods

5.1.3 Spatial potentialities and ambient lived envelop

65The five proposed key ideas and themes tended to be related to children’s play space experiences, preferences, and the created ambiance helping in fulfilling children’s priorities and in producing attractive engaging settings; ensuring previous literature.

661. Entity of activity setting: The analyzed observation results indicated that in Cité jardins neighborhood, as typologies are subdivided into multiple activity settings with multiple internal activity routes and level variations, different play patterns accommodated with more need of protection from interference and higher level of self-concentration as “solo exploratory play”. In Abassia neighborhood, single-spatial experience setting offered more random and impulsive movement. Incidence of aggressive and fighting were evident due to greater random movements and lower activity concentration. However, single defined setting promoted “group dramatic play” and children described single-spatial experience setting as “we feel free in large open spaces”. On the other hand, girls showed a preference for divided typologies into sub-enclosed places for privacy and enclosure. There were variations in place preferences, with younger children referring to large open spaces as spaces with clear boundaries. Children described “Courtyard” as the best place for playing in front of their residential unit, since it is enclosed, and children could play in them as in a wide open- area (running and pretending). Most children appreciated large wide spaces.

67These findings were consistent with Percy- Smith (2004), who emphasized that different activity settings provide a flexible variety of play experiences and children can shape them according to their will.

682. Flow continuity and fluidity: The analyzed observation results indicated that activity routes could be defined by the use of a distinct material, texture, color, different levels, or the presence of boundaries. In Cité jardins neighborhood, well-defined separating routes achieved flow continuity that attracted more “functional play” or group “games-with-rules”. Less interference encouraged concentration of play for longer periods and stimulated creativity. In Abassia neighborhood, no internal separating activity routes caused interference within play activities, which escalated into fights.

69Previous studies have also suggested that the presence of well-defined activity route networks tends to organize the play flow, reduce random movement, and decrease the interference with the play activities of others. Moreover, children preferred play spaces that allowed smooth flow and they showed preferences to all spaces that could be “appropriated” by children (Valentine 2004).

703. Diversity of ground materials: The analyzed observation results reflected that diversity in used materials seems to affect play activity variation. In Cité jardins neighborhood, there is high diversity of ground materials that helped children to imagine “territories”, and to be inside or outside imaginary shelter, where children expressed “we prefer places with boundaries to territorialize it”. In Abassia neighborhood, poor ground material diversity promoted feelings of boredom towards their surrounding environment as they expected new material explaining “We await the labors to repair drainage system to provide us with new material for play as sand”. Children showed preferences to material diversity, describing it as a chance to invent new play activities.

71The findings of this study are consistent with Cohen et al. (1999), Cele (2004), and Simkins and Thwaites (2008), who concluded that “diversity and variety” in space offer the chance to create new affordances and gain diverse play experiences, which stimulates children sense of “exploration” and “curiosity”. Children play is stimulated by variation within space characteristics. Children need designs without defined tangible meaning, which stir up the “imagination” of children and tickle their “curiosity”.

724. Topographic variability: The analyzed observation results indicated that topography offers a great degree of freedom with varied opportunities for play. In Cité jardins neighborhood, observed play activities on the stair flights and steps tended to involve sitting, stepping up and down, and jumping. For example, one of the children stated: “this place has different level so we can jump, race, and sit to observe people activities in the neighborhood from above”. In Abassia neighborhood, observations further confirmed that variability in ground level does not only promote “functional forms of play”, but it promotes social interaction and “group play”. Groups of children were frequently observed to sit together talking, painting, singing, or eating together.

73As emphasized in the literature, Titman (1994) concluded in a qualitative study that children are seeking out “places” and “elements which stimulate them physically” with a challenging way and present opportunities for “risk” and “complexity”, one of these spaces is the elevated spaces with different levels.

745. Urban spatial features: The analyzed observation results indicated that in Cité jardins neighborhood, vegetation promoted “functional play”, “exploratory behavior”, and creative activities as creating shelters used for hiding. In Abassia neighborhood, children preferred loose elements that are flexible in form and function. They described how they created play equipment using all these materials. Flexible loose material (i.e. old tires, bricks, ladders, and water hoses) encouraged inventing objects for play that enhanced child imagination and innovation.

75This was consistent with Hart (1979), who introduced the “The theory of Loose Parts”, which further elaborated that in any environment, both the “degree of inventiveness and creativity and the possibility of discovery”, are directly proportional to the “number and kinds of variables in it”.

5.2 Conclusions

76Children’s experience of place is multi-dimensional. They are connected to certain places emotionally and sometimes they prefer or dislike a place for how it makes them feel, not only for its physical and functional qualities. Moreover, secret observations and the volunteering of children were considered as main study limitations in approaching children. However, an ethnographic approach that is rooted in sociology and anthropology, provides a better elaboration of ambience of children’s preferred places, everyday sensory experiences of these preferences, events, or activities that constitute the everyday life. Thus, it offered a comprehensive analysis of different terminologies. It allows tracing the various conceptual issues through a theoretical framework, which is the main pillar of this study. In consequence, this study opens a new perspective in the conception of the child's space in the city. This study is not a question of thinking of children's places as closed islands but rather as child-friendly intergenerational environments. Based on the above analysis, the study achieved its main objective of investigating the potential impact of the spatial porosity on children's presence and play behaviors in order to promote social, physical, and cognitive development. Additionally, the study confirmed that different spatial typologies contributed to different occurrences of different play patterns so as the perception to the surrounding environment. Moreover, the study proposed that specific spatial potentialities are associated with children sensible experiences, preferences, ambiance of lived spaces, and play opportunities.

77The study recommends that urban planners should extract themes essential to create child-friendly urban spaces that encompass children with diversity of cultures and origins from all over the world. Additionally, the study suggests that research is needed to confirm its findings and to investigate the results’ interpretations. Moreover, the study pointed to the importance of investigating the generalizability of current findings to other socio-economic contexts in Egypt and France and other cultural contexts in other countries. Likewise, the study recommends extending the scope of the study to encompass other spatial urban categories such as recreational urban spaces and children’s daily education spaces as well as to investigate the potential impact of other landscape potentialities on play behavior and children development in order to assist urban designers and landscape architects to produce children places in the city.

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List of illustrations

Title Table 1: Urban fabric in the two neighborhoods
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Title Table 2: Spatial potentialities in the two neighborhoods
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Title Figure 1: Layout of different typologies in Abassia residential neighborhood, Cairo, Egypt
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Title Figure 2: General view of Abassia residential neighborhood, Cairo, Egypt
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Title Figure 3: Layout of different typologies in Cité jardins neighborhood, Paris suburbs, France
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Title Figure 4: General view of Cité jardins neighborhood, Paris suburbs, France
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Title Figure 5: Multiple data gathering combined methods
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Title Figure 6: Data analysis through Trialectic Space and Affordance theories
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Title Figure 7: Affordance theory filling conceptual gaps in the Trialectic Space model
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Title Figure 8: Different levels of space
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Title Figure 9: Amount of observed "cognitive play" and "social play"
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Title Figure 10: Children presence percentage in different typologies
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Title Figure 11: Cognitive skills assessment test, drawing sample (below age 7)
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Title Figure 12: Cognitive skills assessment test, drawing sample (over age 7)
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Title Figure 13: Amount of observed "cognitive play" and "social play"
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Title Figure 14: Percentage of children presence in different typologies
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Title Figure 15: Cognitive skills assessment test, drawing sample (below age 7)
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Title Figure 16: Cognitive skills assessment test, drawing sample (over age 7)
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Title Figure 17: Difference between the amount of observed "cognitive play" and "social play" in the two neighborhoods
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Title Table 3: Differences in "cognitive play" and "social play" in the two neighborhoods
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Title Figure 18: Different cognitive play types afforded by different spatial typologies in Cité jardins neighborhood
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Title Figure 19: Different afforded cognitive play types by different spatial typologies in Abassia neighborhood
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Title Figure 20: Difference in evaluations of drawings between the two neighborhoods
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References

Electronic reference

Maya Elnesr, Impact of residential everyday urban spaces conception on children community play behavior and cognitive development: the case of Cairo and ParisArticulo - Journal of Urban Research [Online], 23 | 2023, Online since 08 December 2022, connection on 12 June 2024. URL: http://journals.openedition.org/articulo/4878; DOI: https://doi.org/10.4000/articulo.4878

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About the author

Maya Elnesr

PhD student in CRESSON Laboratory (Centre de recherche sur l’espace sonore et l’environnement urbain), Grenoble School of Architecture, France. Lecturer assistant at Arab Academy for Science Technology and Maritime Transport, Faculty of Engineering, Department of Architecture and Environmental Design, Cairo, Egypt.

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