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Boring Playgrounds

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“There is an overemphasis on brightly coloured equipment, an over-preoccupation with safety and far too little thought and time paid to making them playful, interesting places that adults will want to spend time in, as well as children.”

‘Boring’ playgrounds stifle children’s creativity – Telegraph.

I get all the play module manufacturers’ catalogs at work – at least the ones that are attempting to market in this part of BC and I have to agree. An extreme over emphasis on bright colours and excess PVC parts distract children’s imagination and segregate these spaces as off limits from the real world.

[ad#200-left]The problem is that when a city or developers are considering installing a play space, the usual temptation is to pick something that is recognizable and familiar to adults, looks solid and safe, and meets the budget. Unfortunately this is boring.

Children are not accountants, scientists, or machines that respond to a discreet set of stimuli (colour + swing = fun), rather they are designers in imagination and adventure. Let’s treat children with respect and allow them to play with natural textures and shapes. Play spaces are some of a community’s most important public spaces and should be accessible and pleasant for all ages.

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Mike Thomas

Mike Thomas P.Eng. ENV SP, is the author of UrbanWorkbench.com and Director of Engineering at the City of Revelstoke in the Interior of British Columbia, Canada. If I post something here that you find helpful as you navigate the world of engineering, planning and building communities, that’s wonderful. But when push comes to shove: This is my personal blog. The views expressed on these pages are mine alone and not those of my employer.

5 thoughts on “Boring Playgrounds

  1. I have designed playgrounds for parks and schools for 20 years, and would hardly call playgrounds today “Boring”
    Take a look at some of the more creative products today from world leader manufactureres, and you will see challenging, stimulating and freeform play environments that really are fun. What are you comparing todays playgrounds to? Note that Very little PVC is used on playgrounds at all, and it must be phthalate freee to meet many starte requirements. Most products rtoday are made entirerly from recycled or recycleable products that are more earth friendly than ever.

  2. Gary,

    See the link above regarding PVC in playgrounds, and that only recently have manufacturers cared about eliminating this material..

    I am comparing the standard gaudy play equipment with nature and culture, both of which are often missing from children’s lives. I wrote in a previous post a year and a half ago…
    Challenging Playgrounds

    Most playgrounds around the country have been installed by developers or cities as new development occurs, or as older parks get vandalized or marked for equipment replacement or upgrading. Its pretty safe to say that most parks have a 5-6 foot high slide, some sort of ladder or small climbing structure, again no more than six feet high, maybe a swing set, typically with chains not more than 9-10 feet long all surrounded by pea gravel bounded by treated timber as if to say, you can only play within these boundaries.

    The simple fact is that products out of a catalog provide no local context or representation of the characteristics of the site. They are typically designed for very flat sites, in essence, the McPlayground is boring compared with real childhood (or even adult) adventure.

    I see your company offers a good range of products, probably one of the best ranges I’ve seen from one site – and you appear to have expertise to assist in design and layout of sites. I’m glad that there are companies like SiteLines filling this niche. Maybe your placespaces aren’t boring, but many are!

  3. I am a landscape architect and have to agree that most playgrounds are boring. As landscape architects we are “forced” to use standard catalogue play structures mostly because our clients (cities and schools) are afraid of the liability that comes with a creatively designed playground. And yes that does result in McPlaygrounds. It is also true that some companies are designing nicer and more exciting play equipment. However in my mind nothing can compare with playing outdoor in nature. Nature play not only challenges kids physical abilities but has many other benefits.

    There is overwhelming evidence from research that proves that natural play is important to children’s overall development in every major way, benefits include: concentration and impulse control, emotional coping and stress reduction, stimulation of creativity, reduced symptons of ADD and ADHD. No piece of manufactured play equipment can provide that. Of course it is possible to combine a good piece of equipment with a natural setting. My company LandCurrent and several other designers in the country are now designing Natural Playgrounds (also see http://www.naturalplaygrounds.info).

    I think this is only one little step in the right direction, eventually we need to design our communities so that kids once again can walk out of their house and play in a natural setting right outside their home.

  4. Hooray! Thank you for your comments Anita, and thanks for reading!

    Walking is a lost art in today’s drive everywhere culture. If you look elsewhere on my site, you’ll see that I don’t believe that this is a permanent, sustainable or feasible state for any community – and I welcome the opportunity to challenge communities to re-design themselves around walkable hubs rather than drivable stripmalls.

  5. My company, PlaySpace Designs, represents Kompan Unique Playgrounds. As mentioned in an earlier post, they do no, nor have they ever used PVC. They are one of the world's largest playground manufacturers, and they've been in business since the 1970s, so this is not a recent phenomenon.

    Also, please take a moment to check out their product line, Galaxy, it's anything but boring.

    Beyond the obvious problem that boring playgrounds don't hold children's attention (so they're pretty much a waste of taxpayer money), there's also the problem that boredom often creates safety issues. If kids are unchallenged, they will make up their own challenges. If that means jumping off a roof, so be it. Check out the cover of the September 2007 Landscape Architecture magazine. Of course there's also the modern safety issue of obesity in children which boring playgrounds contribute to.

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