This article reviews one important aspect of children's environments in urban areas: play in public open spaces. The focus is on the provision of spaces for play for children aged between about 4–11 years old. The article argues that children's play is important for their development and for society as a whole and the article includes a short introduction to this, drawing on literature from a range of disciplines. The article then moves on to discuss aspects of the history of playgrounds during the 19th and 20th centuries, both in America and England. The article continues to draw on a range of literature while discussing play in public open spaces with respect to play value and need; design concepts and themes and design elements. The article concludes by contemplating whether the design of play in public open spaces will in the future draw more on the conclusions from academic literature than has happened during the last 40 years.