Thirteen: The City and the Park in Times of Pandemic: Children’s Practices in Public Spaces Before and After the Lockdown in Porto, Portugal

Based on research carried out in the city of Porto, Portugal, this chapter presents two case studies in which we analyze the practices of children from different social backgrounds in two urban parks, before and during the pandemic. It is important to highlight that the region of Porto was, at an earlier stage, the epicenter of the pandemic in Portugal, with a 47-day lockdown. Here, we assess the influence of social class and ethnicity on children’s uses of and practices in public spaces, based on our fieldwork in the two parks before the outbreak and post-lockdown.

Public spaces are vitally important ‘place[s] of encounter and exchange’ (Tonucci, 2001: 149) between people of different generations and/or socio-cultural backgrounds.

However, in contemporary societies, increasing traffic, noise, pollution, and lack of green spaces, make cities increasingly harder places to live in. Many residents’ ‘right to the city’ (Lefebvre, 1968) is jeopardized and children are a group specially affected, mostly because their mobility and free use of public spaces encounter progressive restrictions.

Urban childhood is marked by a decrease in children’s independent mobility and use of public spaces (Fyhri et al, 2011; Shaw et al, 2015). Children’s daily lives tend to revolve around three indoor settings: home, school, and recreational institutions (Rasmussen, 2004; Sarmento, 2018). Hence, ‘the playful dimension of the city’ (Farné, 2017: 165) is being lost, and we know that children’s play is an essential activity for their physical, social, and emotional development and well-being (Sarmento, 2018; Russel and Stenning, 2020). Through play, children socialize with peers and adults, develop autonomy, create emotional attachment to places, acquire physical and social skills, and build themselves as citizens.

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