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.

A Community Engineer

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One of the things that is much easier to do in a smaller town is get involved in community activities. Over the past week, I’ve been able to help out with the judging of the local Elementary School Science Fair, then the School District Science Fair, as well as attend a presentation by the Selkirk College Integrated Environmental Planning Students for their concepts on the Castlegar City Council Official Community Plan.

Science Fairs

Science and Civil EngineeringI only remember going in one science fair when I was at school; my mum might remember differently, but I remember how neat my presentation was and what I did, (and that I won a prize too!). But other than that, science fairs weren’t a big feature in my schooling, which is kind of funny considering how academic the school I went to was… anyway.

I had fun at the Kinnaird Elementary Science Fair. Being a professional in a science related field gave me some credibility as a judge and allowed me to interact with the students from first grade right  though to seventh grade. The judging was pretty tough with great displays and some really solid knowledge of topics, but we were able to come to a consensus on the winners in the various age groups and categories.

As a networking event for me, I met lots of professionals from the region, and got to promote me and the company I work for to a whole new group of people. I’m glad I had the opportunity, I’ve been here for 5 weeks and I’m getting to meet so many people in some many different industries and related fields. I also met the Dean of the Castlegar Selkirk College Campus who’s keen to get me in to do some guest lecturing.

Integrated Environmental Planning

The students from the IEP course at Selkirk college have been working on different aspects of the City of Castlegar’s Official Community Plan. From walking trail extensions to waste and recycling management strategies to watershed management, these students identified and went about solving some issues that were dear to their hearts and part of forward thinking on the environment in the region.

The night was a great success with members of the community active in discussion and asking tough questions of the students. It was great to see the students able to present their concepts to the community and some members of council, and do something useful to the community as part of their course work. Too often the projects are far from the realities of communities and real life problems, but this really gave the citizens of Castlegar who were present something to think about regarding their city and the future. 

So to those who question my move from a big city to a small town, I’d like to ask them what they’ve been able to give back to the community and what events they’ve attended as a professional in their city. The opportunities are huge in small towns, have you considered moving to a small town and simplifying your life?

Alberta Land Use and Sustainability

by BugMan50 (Creative Commons License: Attribution, Non-Commercial)As Albertan land use spirals out of control with massive growth in the oil, gas, residential, commercial and industrial sectors, the rest of the country stands by waiting and watching…

What can we learn about this situation and how can we better protect the environment and livability of those towns we call home? This article in yesterday’s Calgary Herald…

Alberta can’t just keep racing to keep up with the boom, Liberal Leader Kevin Taft says. "It’s just about a free-for-all out there right now, and it’s causing all kinds of problems," Taft says as he travels to Red Deer for a meeting.

"With the economic boom, land use decisions are getting pushed through every day and there’s no long-term strategy. "Clearly, we need rules on who can play in what parts of the sandbox."

Premier Ed Stelmach acknowledges a comprehensive blueprint for land management is needed, and promises to complete one shortly….

The question then becomes, how much of Alberta should be developed?

Official debates on this and other land use questions have so far taken place behind closed doors amongst government officials, municipalities, industry representatives, aboriginals and landowner groups. Next month, average Albertans will get their say in a round of public forums and an online survey.

"I think that Albertans, once they have an opportunity to talk about what they would like to see in the province of Alberta in terms of the rules of development, it may in many ways deal with the kind of pressures between urban-rural, oil and gas, and agriculture and forestry," Stelmach says. "There’s also these questions being raised of how much area we will protect of Alberta in the future?"

At the moment, virtually nothing in the province is off limits to energy development, except national parks.

(via Calgary Herald – Alberta’s land rush chaos)
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Just Like Texas

Will Alberta follow the trend in its Southern Cousin Houston, Texas? Will Alberta end up with 18 lane highways to keep all the gas guzzlers moving?

An Opinion on Life in the Country

I’m a sucker for the simple life, (not the TV show kind), but the kind where community is important and people get excited about, well, simple things. As I depart from city life in Newcastle, I’m aware that sophistication is really just another game of oneupmanship. Enjoy this webclip…

Town and country – On Line Opinion – 5/1/2007

When I drive anywhere I am never held up by traffic lights or traffic. There is no road rage, there are so few other drivers at whom I can vent my rage. The local shopping centre’s most exciting day of the year was last week, when a Best and Less store opened up and held a sale. You could get hankies for 1c. The local FM radio station broadcast live from the front of the store. The lines for the checkouts were twenty deep, mothers and grandmothers wrangling young kids while struggling with armfuls of cheap underwear and kids clothing.

Although the author is not permanently moving to the country you get a sense that there is something there that she wishes she could hold onto…

In a small town you can’t totally forget. You can’t escape. You can’t ignore. If it is only you and one other person on a footpath on an entire street and they say hello, you can not pretend that they are talking to someone else, or are just some loony talking to themselves.

Is it possible to bring some of this back to the city?

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Small Town Entrepreneurs

The other day I read this quote:

“Anyone who wants to be an entrepreneur should consider any small town”

Source: Sprawled Out: When creative minds align…

It is a quote from a Tracey Porter, a successful business woman who runs (with her husband) a home decor, fashion and jewelry brand from the rural town of Princeton, Wisconin.

“You have to climb outside your box,” Tracy Porter says. “Anything you can do from somewhere else you can do in a small town.”

Some towns have what it takes to support a national business. The benefits are huge if you can take the risk. Land and construction costs are lower, commute times are as short as you want them to be, and lifestyle factors can improve too.
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The Australian Suburban City

The Australian City is a wonderful thing. Many of them are in stunning locations, harbour-or-riverside in temperate climates with a culture to suit. Brad Ruting at Online Opinion has this to say…

Our growing and groaning cities – On Line Opinion – 28/12/2006

Private developers have taken over. They design our cities now. Rows of almost identical, characterless, apartments are going up overnight. You can buy into a community of like minded people. Sign here and you get contemporary urban excellence and nice neighbours. Be safe and feel safe. New high-rise developments aren’t just houses, they’re lifestyles.

They’re the future and we’re embracing them. Buildings are designed with sustainability in mind, with energy and water efficiency and novel ways to recycle your rubbish. Who says you can’t buy environmental values?

Kosher Pedestrian Crossings


Flickr Creative Commons License - Rabbi
The eastern suburbs of Sydney have a significant Jewish population, and some of these Jews live out their Orthodox faith. Waverley and Woollahra councils are in the process of installing two Kosher pedestrian crossings at intersections on Old South Head Road.

These crossings will allow the Orthodox Jews to cross the road on the Sabbath without pressing a button, between sunset Friday and sunset on Saturday, which would be considered a breach of religious law. An original proposal by council was to re-program the traffic lights to allow regular pedestrian friendly signal changes, but the RTA was concerned about unacceptable traffic and public transport delays. Read more after the jump…

Newcastle’s Problems – The Alleys

Downtown Newcastle is about halfway between a seedy late-night no-go zone and a hip vibrant small downtown core. At the seventh largest city in Australia, Newcastle commands great beaches, a great lifestyle and affordable living, but downtown is a mess. Here’s my take on why… 

Alleys

What makes a city lane or alleyway so special? Why are these often forgotten service routes so maligned? Why do so many cities want to develop them out and get rid of them?

Often the setting for fight scenes in movies, or a criminal author’s latest murder plot, these hidden spaces are destined to hold some mystery, even some attraction, but more often than not revulsion.  Even in my research for this article, I encountered the stench of urine soaked doorways, the disused back routes into buildings with pretty front facades. Alleys are perceived as scary places, but is there room to change the common view, get over the fear? More after the jump…