Noordlaren had a road safety problem. Traffic was speeding past the local primary school, posing a threat to pupils. There had been an accident. Parents wanted something done.
The obvious solution would have been to build a bigger wall around the school’s playground, put up a high fence or install traffic lights.
Instead the Dutch village, in the province of Groningen, did something unexpected, something radical that on the face of it appeared to be downright dangerous – it removed the wall completely and extended the playground across the road.
Now the only barrier between children and vehicles is a low, one-rail fence decorated with coloured balls. There are no road markings, no signals, no signs. Yellow benches have been placed in the road area. It is as if motorists are driving through a playground.
And a surprising thing has happened. “Speeds have come down very substantially,
by 6–7mph (9–11km/h) in the 5–6 years since the changes,” says Ben Hamilton-Baillie, a British urban architect. “There have been no accidents”.