Fight childhood obesity with urban playground

The world is a playground, especially to children. That is, at least, according to Lisa ten Brug. With that in mind, she designed an urban environment to fight childhood obesity.

“Obesity is a neglected issue. It has existed for more than thirty years and the rates are still rising,” said Lisa ten Brug (26). She even suggests that obesity is a contagious disease, which spreads through social ties. Where better to tackle this problem than in the social environment itself? Ten Brug used her knowledge of the effect of the urban environment on people to stop the spread of this social epidemic. She combined these topics for both of her master’s degrees in urbanism (Faculty of Architecture and the Built Environment) and science communication (Faculty of Applied Sciences).

Encourage imagination

“Normal playgrounds are restricted and subjected to safety rules. Children should be able to make their own rules. They have a vivid imagination, so an entire area can be a playground,” Ten Brug said. With the help of children in Beverwaard, a district in Rotterdam, she developed her method to design the urban environment. The design should stimulate physical activity and reverse the spread of obesity. With this collaborative approach, Ten Brug wants to involve the community in the design of their own public space. “I did research on what solutions could be implemented, but I was only able to prioritize them with the help of the children. Their involvement stimulates them to actually use this space for physical activity.” Based on the children’s ideas, her design was unexpected: a big, concrete ornamental gull.


The most important factor of her method is the element of surprise. “The gull is aimed to break the normal routine”, Ten Brug said. “A city should not merely facilitate or stimulate consumerism, but could be used to make people think differently.” And this requires imaginative ideas. The gull forms the center of the district and functions as an icon. In addition, Ten Brug designed a square with the gull’s nest and a square where the children can play with water.

Meanwhile, Ten Brug started her own company in the consultancy of urban design, as she wants to continue with public involvement in urban development. Her suggestion to other graduates is: “Do not hold on to certain ideas, but be open to the unexpected.”

Title of thesis: ‘ObeCity’

Grade: 8 (Urbanism) and 7.5 (Science Communication)

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