Gjon Buzuku Play Street
The Gjon Buzuku Play Street was built as part of NACTO–GDCI’s “Streets for Kids” program. In collaboration with the school and neighborhood community, and the city of Tirana, we created a playground and safe mobility zone with an emphasis on walkability for young children and their caregivers.
🗓 Year: 2020–2022
💸 Streets for Kids grant value: $20,000
🔮 Funded by NACTO Global Designing City Initiative’s Streets for Kids program
⚒ Implementing partner: Tirana municipality agencies DPN1, DPN2, DPN3, APR, and the directorate of transportation
✅ Status: Ongoing
Tirana Play Streets build a buffer of safe space to walk and bike adjacent to schools, connecting to transit and bike lanes whenever possible, to improve the commute to and from school. The Play Street buffer is also designed to solve the pick-up and drop-off chaos schools experience every morning. Getting cars away from the school gate, and reducing their use during rush hour reduces air pollution, child and caregiver stress, and has been shown to improve learning.
But a play street is as much for use by the neighborhood as it is to improve school function. Globally, 51% of parents say that they “want [their] children to play more outdoors, but are worried for their child’s safety,” with 46% adding that they feel they “have to be over-protective of them in this world.”
Play streets provide caregivers with young children a new outdoor play space close to home.
Long-term school-street programs in Bolzano, London, and Vienna show results can be quickly achieved with three simple ingredients: a temporary street barrier, a traffic guard, and an energized principal to steward the project. The Tirana Play Streets go even further by introducing permanent changes to streets as well as play and greening elements.
Studies show that Albania is more susceptible to climate change externalities than our Balkan neighbors. Considering threats like air quality and extreme heat, the time is now to respond with climate-adaptable public spaces.
Community planning meetings took place during Covid-19. Inhabiting the space of the project greatly helped in discussions and engagement.
Objectives of Tirana Play Streets
❀ Guarantee children have safe passage to school. Tirana children will be able to safely bike, roll or stroll to school. During drop-off and pickup, streets near schools will transform into active public spaces.
❀ Create a network of climate resilient public spaces. Reclaiming streets for parks and play, adding significant tree canopy coverage will cool street temperatures during the hottest months, improve air quality, and create comfortable pockets across Tirana.
❀ Build opportunities for movement and play. Tirana neighborhoods will gain new play, rest, and gathering spaces. Children will be able to play and explore before and after school. Studies show that consistent movement and exercise for children under 12 improves lifelong cognitive function and mental health.
❀ Slash reliance on cars and incentivize healthier modes. Since Tirana caregivers can safely walk or bike their children to school, they will be more likely to shift modes in their commutes, continuing to work by bike, bus or by foot.
❀ Improve air quality. Tirana children will breathe better air, not only on their Play Street, but across the city. International and local partners like GIZ have already pledged to assist in measuring and tracking the air quality around schools. This will also galvanize public awareness around negative health outcomes of air pollution.
❀ Eliminate congestion and non-local traffic near schools. Tirana streets will be quieter and safer without disrupting residents and nearby business owners from accessing their neighborhood. Bolzano and London found that Play streets did not worsen or disrupt traffic on streets adjacent to Play Streets.
Abundant tree planting was central to the project.
At Gjon Buzuku School we
• converted 1,680 m2 of street space into protected sidewalks
• transformed 310 m2 of underused parking lot into a dynamic play space
• introduced sustainable stormwater management elements
• planted twenty-five semi-mature and mature trees
• installed 25 m2 of new seating
• installed evening lighting
• purchased all project materials and services from within a 2-km radius of the site
The street painting was designed in collaboration with children from the neighborhood via ongoing workshops.
A sandpit and slide were designed with the youngest residents in mind.
Custom street furniture was designed and adapted over the course of the project.
Wayfinding and signage was based on a font made during workshops with neighborhood children. Tree genus and other information was intentionally made visible.