Category Archives: Uncategorized

Dennis the Menace and Burning Man

Over the past few weeks I’ve been reading more and more about playgrounds for adults. This is a phenomenon that started out in Asia a few years ago. Since then, it has taken root in Europe and is now becoming au courant in North America.

Reports in The New York Times seem to be building up interest across the USA. In this vein, ‘adult playground’ is primarily about pumping up the fitness factor and providing outdoor exercise stations.

Halifax, Canada – PlayGroundology’s home – is perhaps a little ahead of the curve in relation to other North American cities. That’s one of the side benefits of an outdoor equipment manufacturer setting up shop here in Nova Scotia. Green Gym installations are popping up all over our city.

This is all well and fine. I mean it’s hard to argue the value of helping to realign the ABSI, usurper of the Body Mass Index that has served as an indicator of healthiness or lack thereof in recent years.

Now there’s no doubt that the majority of us adults in North America could use a tune-up, or an outright makeover. I know that in terms of the rotundity factor, I’ve got too much going on for my own good. In Canada, ParticipACTION has got a lot to offer on the matter of physical activity.

But what about the fun, thrill, adrenalin quotients? Exercise is great but even us adults should have access to a broader canvas. This is where I introduce exhibits ‘A’ and ‘B’, Dennis the Menace and Burning Man respectively.

Dennis was Hank Ketchum’s inspiration to build Monterey, California’s Dennis the Menace Playground back in the 1950s. I’ve written about this playground like no other previously in PlayGroundology.

Its custom designed equipment created many a hair raising experience for kids and parents. The present day Dennis playground is a pale shadow of the original and many who experienced its glory days as kids lament its passing. And who can blame them when there was excitement like the helicopter spinny thing of death which closes out the video segment below.

So yes, there should be a bit of an edge à la Dennis for adult playgrounds and where better to seek inspiration in modern times than Burning Man. This is where you can find adult playgrounds with a twist as the photos and video that follow attest.

Klimax by Michael Christian – Burning Man, 2003. Source

Temple of Gravity – Burning Man, 2003. Source

The Darwin Dome – Burning Man, 2009. Photo credit – Scott Haefner

Industrial See-Saw – Burning Man. Source

Now imagine that instead of a coffee and danish at break you were able to limber up on this customized Burning Man special.

Somewhere on the Dennis the Menace – Burning Man continuum there is a place that speaks to fitness and fun, risk and reward. It’s good to see that big kids can benefit from a little undirected play too.

Postscript to The Science of Play in Today’s Parent

Today’s Parent, a Canadian magazine, ran a feature in their June issue on playground trends and designs – The Science of Play. Sarah Lazarovic’s article provides an excellent overview of some of the current thoughts and perspectives on the world of playgrounds. She draws on a number of knowledgeable people in Europe and North America to illustrate the story. As founder of the blog PlayGroundology, and a novitiate playgroundologist, I was very pleased to be asked to contribute a few comments.

When Sarah and I spoke, I prattled on and on and on. Her questions provided some airtime to share thoughts on a topic I’ve become passionate about. I now have a modest couple of years under my belt researching and conducting interviews that eventually wind up as posts in this blog. My kids and I have also racked up some practical experience putting close to 100 playgrounds in five provinces through their paces. Just today, my son Noah-David piped up to me en route to one of our current local favourites, “Papa, we’re playground explorers, aren’t we?” Our hometown adventures, captured since the summer of 2009 in Halifax Plays, are just about to get underway for this year.

Home on the Range – Halifax

The Science of Play hits all the high notes on its whirlwind tour. Sarah does a tremendous job of connecting the dots on a story where the subject matter defies stereotyping or pigeonholing. There is no one size fits all when it comes to public playspaces. Sarah’s interview for the Today’s Parent story was a chance to share some of the playground knowledge I’ve acquired in the recent past. More importantly, the story presents a significant opportunity to build on Canadian conversations about what goes on behind the scenes of playground planning and development – discussions around policy considerations, design and financing models for example.

It’s in that spirit that I offer this postscript to Sarah’s article in order to expand on a couple of the points and provide some context around one of my comments.

Comparatively speaking, from what I have seen in eastern Canada, there is a lack of creativity when it comes to playground design in this country. All we have to do is look overseas to Denmark, Germany, the UK, Sweden and Finland where design is flourishing. Their towns and cities have not been overtaken by the march of composite plastics and prefab metal posts and beams.

Although creative design is not a hallmark of the Canadian playground ethos, it is not totally absent from the landscape. There are bright spots well worth a look. Nestled on the Mountain in downtown Montreal is Salamander Playground – green grass, grand trees and a water orb. In the nation’s capital, Strathcona’s Folly is a time capsule playspace made from architectural bric à brac, a treasure of form and texture.

Water Orb – Montreal’s Salamander Playground. Click here for Original Designs slideshow.

The Magdalen Islands’ Boats are anchored safely ashore as they crash and crest through imaginary seas. And as home port to Canada’s East Coast Navy, maritime traditions run deep in Halifax and now kids can pretend they’re on a diving adventure à la Jules Verne on their own orange submarine. In Winnipeg, there’s Assiniboine Park Playground opened in the spring of 2011 that puts nature front and center. I’m hoping someday to get out to Richmond, B.C., just to test and tour that funked up Garden City Park Playground.

In Halifax, we are well served by the number of playgrounds – over 300 – and by high maintenance standards. But with the exception of our orange submarine, we’re kind of sparse on the discovering new design frontiers department. As parents, if we’re not satisfied with the current state of playground design then we have a responsibility to band together and engage our municipal governments and/or school boards to bring about change. This is not change just for the sake of it. It’s about creating enticing spaces with public funds that will help to break the pall of physical inactivity which is becoming endemic. It’s about valuing creativity in our children and local designers and fashioning space that calls out for imaginative play.

Canada could benefit from a voluntary sector organization that focuses exclusively on advocating for play on behalf of kids. These organizations exist in Europe and Australasia. I’m thinking here of Play England and its independent sister organizations such as Play Wales which hosted the 2011 International Play Association World Conference.

These groups conduct research, develop policy guidelines, compile and curate online resources, work with and challenge government, deliver programming and fulfill an important role in the public promotion of play. They are a non-commercial voice of sanity. In the US the social entrepreneur group KaBOOM! does similar work promoting play through Playful Cities USA in addition to spearheading playground builds with local communities.

On the question of costs, customized designs local or otherwise, can be more expensive but this is certainly not always the case. If there are no requests for alternative playground designs being made of a municipality then the path of least resistance is a trip to the numerous manufacturers who provide tried and true professional service that does not deviate from code and embodies more of the same old, same old. With price tags running anywhere from $100,000 to $500,000 they’re certainly not in the ‘cheap’ category. Playgrounds are big business.

Ontario’s public broadcaster TVO with Sinking Ship Productions has co-produced the first season of a show that’s all about do-it-yourself improvements and renos to local playgrounds by the kids who use them. Each project comes in at $10,000 cash with additional donations and volunteer labour. It’s an interesting model that might catch on. Read about it soon here in PlayGroundology.

Thanks to the editors at Today’s Parent for assigning this article. This is a conversation that should continue to grow. There is more to this universe of play and playgrounds than meets the eye. I don’t have any sophisticated media monitoring tools at my disposal but I sense there is an uptick in Canada’s mainstream media on coverage that focuses on play and playgrounds. I’ve seen stories on TVO, heard them on CBC Radio and read them in The Globe and Mail, The National Post, The Toronto Star, The Calgary Herald and The Vancouver Sun to name some that come immediately to mind.

Keep the play movin’.

In the Name of Play – On Assignment, Dateline Atlanta

On occasion friends, family and colleagues traveling abroad indulge my playground proclivities. When I hear of an impending trip, I ask the traveler if they would consider keeping an eye out for interesting playgrounds and bringing back a few photos to share with readers of PlayGroundology.

Colleagues sometimes look at me a little bemusedly smiling all the while – they’re usually not aware of my playground blogging but are game to grab a few digital images once I give them the elevator pitch. To date, PlayGroundology‘s intrepid freelance photographers have provided great pics from small town Italy, Paris, Hong Kong, Scotland, Vienna and most recently, Atlanta.

Shortly after I heard my co-worker Chris was Atlanta bound I popped the question. Any chance of taking a few snaps of the Isamu Noguchi designed Playscapes? Turns out he was staying close by Piedmont Park and thought he’d be able to swing it.

Playscapes, Piedmont Park, Atlanta, USA. Click image to enlarge.
Photo credit: Chris Brooks.

________________________________________________________
________________________________________________________

When an artist stops being a child, he stops being an artist.

- Isamu Noguchi

Inscription on the rededication plaque for Playscapes, the Noguchi-designed playspace in Atlanta’s Piedmont Park

________________________________________________________
________________________________________________________

Play aficionados revere Noguchi. Even though he was a visionary at creating space for kid’s play, only two of his designs, Atlanta’s Playscapes and the Kodomo No Kuni Playground near Tokyo, were realized during his lifetime. The sculptor, artist and landscape architect has a museum dedicated to his life work in Long Island, New York.

Playscapes model. Source: The Noguchi Museum

During some down time, Chris strolled through the gates of stately Piedmont Park and made his way over to the Playscapes playground. On arrival he read a sign with the following message. “This playground is an area for children’s recreation. Adults unaccompanied by children are respectfully requested to use another part of the park.” As unobtrusively as possible, before receiving a tap on the shoulder from a parent or member of the local constabulary, he snapped the pics in the slideshow below and hightailed it to ‘another part of the park’. Thank you Chris for your steely determination in the face of opprobrium.

Playscapes slideshow. Photo Credits: Chris Brooks. Click through here or on image above for flickr slideshow.

Atlanta’s Playscapes is elegant in its simplicity, functional and fun with the added benefit of lending itself as a tool to explore geometry and shapes.

For more on Noguchi’s playground designs check these fine write ups in LandscapeOnline.com and Sweet Juniper. To view some interesting models for Noguchi playspaces click through on Remiss 63’s photostream on flickr. Finally, here is a brief story with photos on the Playscapes restoration from the Atlanta Task Force on Play.

Playscapes under the Shading Trees. Photo credit: Chris Brooks. Click image to enlarge.

My fine arts photography major daughter Alexa will set aside some time on her trip to New York City later this week to grab shots of NYC playgrounds. I can’t wait to see what her keen eye captures for PlayGroundology readers.

If you have playground photos you’d like to share in PlayGroundology, we’d love to see them. Just send them to playgroundology@gmail.com and we’ll get back in touch with you.

ScreenShot Mondays – Let The Children Play

A couple of Mondays per month, PlayGroundology screenshots a cyberspot that focuses on playgrounds, or play. I hope readers dive in and explore. Even if you’ve seen the selection before, take a moment and check to see what content has been added recently.

Think of this as a very slow stumble upon, an invitation to relish something new or to revisit an old friend. Some of the people and places may be household names in the world of play and playgrounds, others not so much. I hope all will pique your interest in what they have to offer and further your own possibilities for playfulness.

Let The Children Play

Let The Children Play is a gem you don’t want to miss if you’re looking for ideas and inspiration to get the smallest of the small humming along to the outdoors beat.

The ‘Popular Posts’ section is well arranged and has plenty to choose from. One that caught my attention is super sized marble paintings! Why, oh why didn’t this exist in my early childhood world. This is all the fun of marbles, mess and mayhem rolled into one.

Super Sized Marble Painting. Source: Let The Children Play

There’s also a nice selection of blogs on play, outdoor play and early childhood under the ‘blog love’ tab. One of my favourite sections that I hope will grow and grow is ‘inspiring playscapes’. There are two school playscapes featured currently. I’d love to turn the clock back and have a go at playing in either one of them.

There’s plenty more chez Jenny in Australia. Drop in and find out for yourself. Oh and did I mention that Jenny was nominated ‘best individual blog’ and ‘best individual tweeter’ for the 2011 edublog awards?

ScreenShot Mondays will be back in two weeks. If you have any suggestions for a good subject, drop me a line at playgroundology@gmail.com.

Happy 2 Birthday PlayGroundology

Today marks the end of PlayGroundology’s second year. It’s been more fun than the first if that’s possible. I’m fully confident now that there is no shortage of stories on play and playgrounds. Barring unforeseen mishaps to yours truly, I’m counting on years of discovery still lying ahead.

This is the year that PlayGroundology dove headlong into the Twitterverse (@PlayGroundology) not knowing what to expect. I quickly found out that it’s a place to meet new friends, to participate in a community of people from around the world who share information, insights, resources and news about play. It’s a great place too to discover story ideas and to have fun as we did with ABCs4Play.

This was also the year of ScreenShot Mondays – twice a month quick and dirty highlights of individuals and organizations who promote, advocate, document and tell stories about playgrounds and play. I’ve been remiss with a regular Monday schedule of late but feel it’s about to get rolling again soon.

My love affair with flickr’s curated galleries continues. My favourite galleries from this past year are Kids at Play and Kids at Play II. If you haven’t dropped by, poke around and see some of the arresting images taken by photographers from around the globe. What’s best is that this reservoir of photos is continually being filled with new images.

As the year closed, I added a favourite post to Angelique Felix’s, The Best Ideas for Kids 2011. This was my first experience with the brilliance of a bloghop. Thanks to Angelique and the 238 other bloggers who participated. I will be a future bloghopper.

Another innovative space I came across this year is playscapes forum by arcady, creator and author of the Playscapes blog. It’s a great spot to find tools, people and resources. If playgrounds are your thing, check it out.

Over the next week or so, I’ll roll up some of the best posts of the past year just in case you missed them.

In the year ahead, PlayGroundology invites you to Europe, Asia, Africa and beyond. I hope you’ll be able to join the journey and bring a friend or two along also. I love to hear comments and story suggestions too. Don’t be shy.

I’m also about to embark on Facebook to make something of the PlayGroundology page. I’m feeling a little daunted by this so if there are any readers who would like to share tips, ideas, or offer a little help, I’d love to hear from you.

Thanks so much for making the time to read PlayGroundology.

A special thanks to my muses who at 6, 4 and 2 indulge me with a mixture of humour, love and the excitement reserved for new play possibilities.

Russian Artist Brings Barren Playgrounds to London

Have you ever had the sense that there are times that playgrounds in your hometown are eerily quiet? It’s a cracking day for an adventure. You head out to a new playground. It’s empty as in deserted. Welcome to the world of Denis Patrakeev.

Denis Patrakeev, Game Earth series – 13 January – 18 February – Erarta, London, UK

I do wonder on these occasions why no one else, other than us, is there. I think maybe that the designs have long ago lost their snap. I think play is regimented, boxed in in well meaning repeatathon structures that are not nearly as flexible as the imaginations that course through, over, and under them.

Denis Patrakeev, Game Earth series

I wonder too what other public space play paradigms can be invented for urban kids? The challenges are no longer the same as they were at the dawn of the playground in the early 20th century. And here, I’m speaking only of those OECDeed countries. Now, it can be argued, the public policy issues are even more pressing. Our children have become indolent, corpulent, alienated from the natural world, from non-digital play. And everywhere on the planet, urbanization continues its relentless march.

Denis Patrakeev, Game Earth series

Are empty playgrounds the canary in the coal mine? I don’t think so. None that I see are as inert, as devoid of life as Patrakeev depicts. There is colour, light and context all around.

It’s important that parents, experts and kids keep the play conversation kinetic, in motion to recognize the best from experiences around the globe.

Noah and Nellie – Play

Sometimes all you need is a bright sunny sky, a ball, and love, sweet love.

Denis Patrakeev via The Independent and Erarta

Hungarian Playgrounds – Slides, Sculptures and Handcrafted Wood

Earlier this month, PlayGroundology posted a video of Hungarian youth refurbishing a neglected and unloved playground. If you haven’t read the post or watched the short video, take a peek here. It’s uplifting to see this playspace come alive again through the efforts of a group of young people.

Playgrounds in such a derelict state are few and far between. Click here for a Hungarian Playgrounds flickr gallery – slides, sculptures and handcrafted wood.

Playtime by NZSam
Playtime, a photo by NZSam on Flickr.

Thanks again to flickr photographers who allow their work to be shared in galleries.