What makes a favourite?


Editor’s note – It is always a pleasure to welcome guest writers to PlayGroundology. Mark Schwarz suggested the idea for this post when we got together for a lunch in Halifax at the tail end of last year. It’s a serendipitous time for me to post this as I’m just returning from a trip to visit my first granddaughter Evelyn. It was a wintry Toronto time for me, not as balmy as it is in Mark’s home away from home.


Mark Schwarz (aka Grandpa) is the co-owner of Earthscape, an award-winning Canadian custom playground design-build firm. He spends a few months each year in Australia with some of his grandchildren who provide valuable insight as playground testers for his sometimes zany ideas. He began his career as an engineer but the kid in him got the better of him and now his business is play. He has visited playgrounds around the world, always with an eye to evaluating play value and site design.

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Grandpa: “What are your favourite playgrounds in the world girls?”
Akira: “Muddy’s. That’s all.”
Elora: “Yeah, just Muddy’s”

Cairns, a small city in tropical Northern Queensland, Australia, is home to the world’s most successful playground. I know, I know everyone has their favourite playground, so why does Muddy’s get the top vote from almost everyone who has visited?

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The latest visit by my granddaughters and I demonstrates some of the great design ideas embodied in the playground which gets consistently high visitor traffic, in a city of 140,000. In the 4 years we’ve been coming to Cairns, we’ve visited Muddy’s 10 to 12 times. Most of our visits have lasted 1.5 to 2 hours. The most recent visit was on a Sunday afternoon, 32 Deg C, partial sun and cloud. 150 to 200 people were spread throughout the playground area, even when a rainstorm blew through for a half hour.

This is the most used playground we’ve been to, including 20 or so playgrounds we visited in Sydney, AU, and the much more costly Blaxland Riverside Park, built for the Sydney Olympics, Muddy’s ranks as Tripadvisor’s #2 Activity in Cairns, which is the highest rank for a playground I’m aware of.

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Great things about the playground:

– Landscape Architecture. Canopy of fig trees covers most of the site. Gardens break up views and create rooms of distinct play zones.
– Themed seating integrated throughout site. Parents can sit throughout site. The 150+ people on site Sunday all had places to sit, in the shade, close to their children. Many playgrounds we’ve visited have no seating, and those that do are rarely shaded.
– Custom themed. The playground is a mix of standard manufactured play equipment, and themed playable sculpture, art, and site amenities like seating and BBQ shelters.
– Integration. The site doesn’t read like most playgrounds – plopped from space onto a site. Circulation, plantings, play equipment, streams, BBQ area, cafe, musical instruments are integrated into cohesive design.

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– Multi-generational appeal. The BBQ areas and cafe are used by all ages, and the water features appeal to both parents and children.
– Water. This is tropical Australia, so we’re always overheated and sweaty, especially while running around a playground. Water is integrated throughout the site, in streams, fountains, a splashpad, and water walls. The splashpad is used mostly by children, the other features are used by all ages. Most of the adults don’t have bathing suits, so they cool down by walking in streams, getting partially immersed in fountains, and hanging out in the mist from the splashpad.

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What elements make up your favourite playground? Leave us a comment….


 

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