In Tim Harford's book-length argument that some degree of messiness is, contrary to much modern opinion, a good thing, he makes an argument late in the book that applies to the spaces where children play.
Modern playgrounds have become dominated by careful design of the playthings and the environment (KFC in the jargon, standing for Kit, Fence, Carpet). The floors are often made from soft rubbery material to reduce the impact of falls and the kit is increasingly designed to be very safe. All this is intended to reduce the possibility of injury to children.
Harford argues, however:
Yet it’s unclear that these expensive KFC playgrounds play host to fewer accidents. David Ball, a professor of risk management at Middlesex University, has been unable to find any indication that injury rates are falling in these sanitised playgrounds in either the US or the UK.
and he further argues that "dangerous" areas strewn with junk and potentially risky artefacts turn out not to be unsafe:
The benefits of messy play don’t end there. Grant Schofield, a professor of public health at Auckland University of Technology, has been running a research project in which schools opened up nearby wasteground for primary age children to roam free in during breaks. There were no more serious injuries than when the children played in their conventional playgrounds – indeed, there were fewer.
Is he right: is there no evidence that modern ultra-safe playgrounds actually reduce childhood accidents?