Great article about the evolution of the playground, as well as the next generation of playgrounds emerging in cities:
After World War II, European architects turned out custom playgrounds that challenged kids both physically and intellectually. Inspired by their work, a few American architects, including Philadelphia’s Louis Kahn, tried their hands at the form. But the movement didn’t get very far. Playgrounds were a casualty of the breakdown of American cities in the ’60s and ’70s. As maintenance was deferred, they fell into ruin. By the time cities began to recover in the ’90s, Solomon says, all that local officials wanted was equipment that was indestructible and vetted for safety.
Moore, a professor at North Carolina State University who has been studying children’s play for 50 years, sees a connection between those designs and the increase in such childhood ailments as obesity, anxiety, and attention-deficit disorder. In the simple act of scrambling up the branches of a tree, a kid learns to monitor risk and deal with fear. But on most playgrounds, the climbing frames are lower than ever.
The concern about such controlled environments has sparked any number of popular books advocating less programming: Free Range Kids, 50 Dangerous Things (you should let your children do), Last Child in the Woods. All see our culture’s fear of risk as worse than the occasional scraped knee or broken bone.
So what’s the alternative to standard-issue playgrounds? Solomon envisions multipurpose, multigenerational urban parks that incorporate spaces where kids can take charge of their own play. Instead of a fixed bridge in a plastic fort, they would have to use their imagination to decide which objects could be converted to play equipment. Such a challenging play space also would include nooks where kids could temporarily escape the nervous gaze of their caregivers. There would be no fences, plenty of trees and bushes, and good seating.
read more of their ideas for better playgrounds via Changing Skyline: Redesigning playgrounds to promote ‘loose play’ – think pop-up play spaces.
My favorite playground growing up was made of mostly huge sewer pipe pieces, a monkey cage, and random cement shapes. What was your favorite playground as a kid? Or now? Describe it in the comments below.