Monsanto’s Roundup is Confirmed to Kill Human Cells

Image via Wikipedia Does the City of Castlegar use Roundup? Almost a year ago, a motion was brought forward to council to stop using pesticides – the motion was not seconded by any of the other councillors, so the issue wasn’t even discussed to hear why the council was happy with the current use of […]

Boring Playgrounds

“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 […]

Poverty and Global Priorities – Blog Action Day 2008

UrbanWorkbench tackles many topics related to Civil Engineering, Urban Planning and Sustainability, and as part of Blog Action Day 2008, I’d like to take a step away from the construction and development side of things, and focus on the issues of poverty and the collision of climate change and peak oil. This is just a […]

Should a Playground be part of the School Package?

When the parents heard about the new school their kids would be learning in, I bet they didn’t forsee not having a playground…

Parents angry province won’t build new school’s playground

The new school, which will cost $9 million, will replace Charles Dickens Elementary, which was built in 1913. It will be completed next spring, but unless parents open their chequebooks and wallets, it won’t include a playground. Parents say they are shocked the province is spending millions on the school, but refuses to pay $70,000 for a playground.

That’s all, less than $100K and the government won’t pitch in? Where do our tax dollars go if not to education and health?

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There are many reports and studies conducted that prove the same point again and again: 

Childhood obesity and accompaning medical complications are exacerbated by a lack of recreational activities, facilities and equipment.

Which part of these facts does the government believe justifies the construction of a school without a playground? Here is a link to an article discussing a relevant study – School playgrounds help to fight childhood obesity

Famous Architect Designs Playground

Famous architects seem to have a right to design whatever they like, and cities like New York are willing to play pay.

404649727_a87d33ecd3_m-1 Noted architect Frank Gehry will bring his daring deconstructionist aesthetic to the monkey bar and seesaw set, as city officials announced yesterday that he will design a $4 million playground in Battery Park.

Parks officials said Gehry volunteered his services two months after the opening of his first building in New York City, an office building in Chelsea. Gehry is best known for such projects as the Walt Disney Concert Hall in Los Angeles and the titanium-covered Guggenheim Museum in Spain, and plans to design the Atlantic Rail Yards development in Brooklyn.

But the closest the architect has come to designing a play space was when he appeared, in voiceover, as himself in an episode of the children’s animated show “Arthur,” during which he helped Arthur and his friends design a new treehouse.

For architect, the playing’s the thing – AM New York

In a similar vein to the Imagination Playground, a multimillion dollar play space in Manhattan that is set to break ground this summer, I’m sure Frank Gehry will be looking to impress and expand on much of the play philosophy that has been developed over the past couple of years.

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While these spaces provide excellent facilitated and free play, we still have to question the basic tot-lot playground in suburban middle and lower class society. Is there any way to spruce these up, providing safe, exciting play spaces for children of varied ages? The majority of people in the world are more concerned about their local neighborhood than what is happening in New York City, millions of dollars are not required for play grounds, just imagine how many small community play spaces could have been improved with $4 million dollars.

Other discussion on this: Gawker.com – We Hate Your Children

Elderly Playgrounds

Playgrounds evoke memories for many of us: swinging through the air, sliding down death-defying slippery-dips. But what about the times that we feel like slipping into the hard rubber of a swing seat and kicking off, pumping our legs back and forth to go ever higher and higher? Is it appropriate for adults to have fun at a playground?

The following article leaves me feeling a bit, well, dried up about growing old.

Is this all there is to look forward to in our older years? Is this the best that our communities and governments can come up with for the aging? Why aren’t there playgrounds for the middle years? What publicly provided play equipment is there for sufferers of mid-life crises?

Young at Heart: Germany’s First Playground for Seniors – International – SPIEGEL ONLINE – News

A new outdoor playground in Berlin’s Preussen Park is the first of its kind in Germany. Instead of catering to screaming tiny tots and children with boundless energy, the space is strictly for adults. The equipment, in fact, is designed for people at least 1.5 meters (5 feet) tall — children can use it only with adult supervision. The idea is to encourage seniors to exercise.

Eight graffiti-resistant machines (click link for image) made of robust stainless steel are laid out on a layer of soft bark under a canopy of trees. It looks as if someone has taken a gym and placed it in the middle of a forest.

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I must agree that it is an interesting idea, and on the surface has merit in this day and age with an every aging population. There is surely a market for some fun outdoor recreation for elderly people.

The closing remarks of the article are quite telling though

There were no young people at the opening, just pensioners. Later, though, when the celebrities were gone and the machines glowed in the sun like shiny public memorials, the battle over control of the playground began.

Two youngsters swung wildly at the leg trainer, as if they wanted to tear it apart. Behind them an old man had a go at the back massager. Meanwhile, two elderly ladies had their walking frames stuck in the layer of bark that covered the playground. <

Are the elderly ready for their own playground?

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Innovative Play Spaces

Following on from my previous blog post Challenging Playgrounds, what can we do to improve upon what we can clearly see as wrong with recent playground designs?

I see several ideas (some not at all implemented) that could improve play space usage:

Tactile Play Spaces

Using natural (and fabricated) materials to create imaginative play spaces is a good idea. Water, sand, gravel, boulders, tree trunks, can all be incorporated into play areas to add interest and imaginative challenge to unstructured play time. The ability to dam up a flowing stream with a sand bank, or some boulders is something that little boys need to do. Last night having a dinner picnic at the park, the kids of three families were congregated around the base of a young sapling tree where some exposed dirt made an impromptu sandpit. There was a perfectly good (by adult standards!) playground not more than 15 meters away! yet these kids, ranging in age from one and a half to ten were enjoying some mud time. The grassed slope was a hit too, seeing who could roll the fastest was a fun competition between the kids while the parents tried to avoid getting dizzy just watching.

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Play Terrain

Playgrounds these days are modular things ordered out of a catalog, turning up on the back of a truck and assembled in a day. The modern concept of a playground arose from the tenements of the inner city areas, where green space and play areas were noticeably absent. Cities are generally flat, and the resulting playground ended up flat too. But it doesn’t have to be that way! Parents want to be afforded a view of where their younger children are within the play space, strategically placed pathways, seating and equipment can be placed on the side of a hill, on a mound or in a gully. Design is only limited by the imagination, and unfortunately, there is not enough imagination in the average play space design.

Playground Rating Systems

Inspired by ski area boundaries and the international rating system that goes from green circle through to double black diamond. The premise is that if you want to try out that terrain be aware of the risks, and the ski hill is able to limit its liability from the users injuring themselves. Following on from the concept of Play Terrain, users and parents of users should be made aware of the age or skill appropriateness of a particular section of a play space if it is uniquely suited to young children or older more experienced children.

This has the added benefit of showing the older children which areas are specifically for the younger kids, and therefore its not so cool to play in there with as much energy. Again, the ski hill example is the Slow Skiing Only areas where trails merge or beginners are present.

I’m not advocating that children need to be made liable for their own actions at age three, rather that in appropriate areas, a system of ratings may permit parents and some children to exercise a level of discernment over which equipment they should be playing on. The challenge should always be there to get children to extend themselves, but mastery of a lower level of activity should occur first.

Construction Spaces

Most kids like to build things, you see it at home with blocks or Lego, but equally, it’s important that they have the ability to build bigger things as well. Play Spaces are being designed in cities such as New York, where children are able to actively build things, and in some cases there are trained playworkers on staff to ensure that play is safe and materials are present for the children to enjoy.

Empowering Children

The end users of the equipment should be given some say in what would be fun to play on or with. Kids have differing expectations across the country and a design pulled from a catalog that states that it is suitable for ages 5-12 may really be a waste of money. An example catalog is from Timberform – (pdf here ~ 10MB). There are lots of interesting designs, but are they right for your neighborhood?

Back to the playground – The Boston Globe

“To a young child,” Roger Hart, director of the Children’s Environments Research Group at the Graduate Center of the City University of New York says, “the idea of a playground is ridiculous in the first place. The whole idea of being taken to a place to play is almost an oxymoron. Children want to play everywhere.”

If you are involved in the decision to install or approve play equipment or a new play space, don’t settle for mediocre, get the most exciting design available for your budget. Get community support for a bigger budget.

Realize that children grow and learn in play spaces.

Let us know what you think of these ideas, and share your experiences, good and bad, in playgrounds. Thanks for reading UrbanWokbench!

Challenging Playgrounds

I stood at the top of a near vertical drop, swaying in the brisk April breeze. I had conquered the climb, below me my peers stood in awe at the prowess and fearlessness that had been evident in mastering this feat of bravery. OK, so maybe the imagination of an eight year old version of me is getting a bit out of hand as I sit at my desk reminiscing the “good old days”…

But I do remember the feeling of meeting a good challenge head on, and some of the best challenges were in playgrounds or places that we made our playgrounds, trees, building sites, caves, creek beds, rock faces and even steep roadways. I grew up in a culture and environment that didn’t put the constraints on children that are common in our over-protective society today. Most of the kids in my neighborhood were free to play in “the bush” or “down the road” or “over at Billy’s house”, as long as they were home in time for dinner, or before it got dark, whichever came first, depending on the season.

Playgrounds are a passion of mine. I love designing them, I love playing on them, and I love seeing my kids having fun on them.

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Long Forgotten Playgrounds

One of my favorite pieces of play equipment is the swing set. I love the feeling of a well designed swing; where the chains are just the right length to get a heart stopping pause at the top of the arc, before you swoop back through to earth again. Not long ago it was still possible to find a park with a merry-go-round, a set of real see-saws, a long set of monkey-bars and a death defying slippery-dip slide, but with the advent of litigious communities and cautious cities, these simple, study and fun pieces of play equipment began disappearing from the parks scattered around our nation. There was no outcry, no conspiracy theories, after all the Atari and Sega game consoles were getting more of a workout than the playgrounds, parents were happy, and their children were safe inside.

A recent article in the Boston Globe quotes Susan Solomon, an architectural historian and author of American Playgrounds: Revitalizing Community Space

Back to the playground – The Boston Globe

“The see-saw today,” points out Solomon, “is pretty much a horizontal bar that hardly moves in either direction. It just kind of jiggles a little bit.” School playgrounds in Broward County, in south Florida, now post “No Running” signs.

Recent Trends in Playground Design

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.

This playground sucks

If my four year old gets bored after a few minutes of playing at some of these parks, is an eight year old going to play on the equipment? Now there are exceptions to the rule, but generally these aren’t built without significant cost, or an ongoing commitment to facilitate play or provide materials.

Children are smarter than we give them credit for, if they are forced to play in uninspiring play areas, they will find ways to make it more dangerous, hence the signs on indoor play areas “do not climb on the outside of tunnel” and the netting preventing children from accessing forbidden more challenging terrain.

Kids want the challenge, kids need the challenge of heights and speed and balancing in a playground.

Check out my ideas for Innovative Play Space Designs in my next blog post.

Let us know what you think of these ideas, and share your experiences good and bad in playgrounds.