Category Archives: New York City

Bonne fête, Feliz navidad, Happy Birthday, Barka da sabon shekera, Rā Whānau ki a Koe!

It’s a little hard to believe that the first PlayGroundology post, Manhattan’s Bronze Guy, was published five years ago. Based on an interview with American artist Tom Otterness, it features his limited edition sculpture, Playground, which had caught my eye before the Colorado version of the piece adorned Google as a background image.

70179_600x357Playground by Tom Otterness – Google background image. Photo credit – Dick Jackson

Since then, play has become my volunteer vocation much to the delight of our three young kids aged 9, 7 and 5. Along the way, the PlayGroundology blog has won a couple of Canadian blogging awards and racked up readership from over 160 countries. More importantly though, I have had the opportunity to become long distance friends, and in some cases meet, with fine ‘play’ people from Scotland, England the US, Canada, Ghana, Singapore, Japan, Australia and elsewhere.

DSC06210London’s Glamis Adventure Playground from Mark Halden’s presentation at Play Summit in Glasgow, Scotland – April, 2014.

Among the many things that continue to strike me is that this world of play is broad, deep and inter-connected. Passionate parents, educators, professionals in health services, public administration and child care, practitioners, researchers, designers, landscape architects and lay people are amongst the stewards and advocates for children’s inalienable right to play.

Also in that first year, who knew there would be an opportunity to be Going Philatelic in Singapore? Connecting with Justin Zhang for that post resulted in a follow up a couple of years later when his e-book with photography and writing on these culturally attuned playscapes were featured in the blog.

3991913517_4f4a2cf01f_bDragon playground, Singapore. Photo credit – Jerry Wong. License: (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

I continue to find joy in sharing public playspaces that break the mould, that boldly present alternatives, speak to place and do not shy away from risk. Early in year two, Alfio Bonanno’s Himmelhøj (Sky High) located on Copenhagen’s Amager Island came to my attention. It is a playspace of place, elemental in a natural setting even in its proximity to urban development.

Alfio Bonnano - CopenhagenThe Amager Ark. Photo courtesy of the artist, Alfio Bonanno

In year three, I discovered Pierre Szkéley and his love of cement. The architect used it to great effect in a number of sculpted playgrounds in France dating back to the 1950s. There is a certain je ne sais quoi about the work, a sense of future forms creating a new physical narrative for kids to explore.

szekelyhay00Pierre Székely’s L’Haÿ-les-Roses, 1958. Photo credit – As-tu dèja oublié?

PlayGroundology’s fourth year continued to explore the intersection of art and play in posts that examined Ann Hamilton’s the event of a thread and Jason Richardson’s Australian playground music – transforming playground equipment into instruments…

Many SwingsPhoto credit – James Ewing. Source – Park Avenue Armory

In PlayGroundology’s fifth year, I fell in love with ‘loose parts’ thanks to friends at Pop-Up Adventure Play, Brendon P. Hyndman’s research in an Australian primary school and the wonderful people at Nova Scotia’s Youth Running Series who provided me with the chance to run my first public play event – oh it was intoxicating…..

loose partsLoose Parts – Nova Scotia Youth Running Series

The blog continues to afford an endless journey of discovery – meeting people, admiring design, becoming familiar with the rudiments of play theory, developing public play activities and of course, playing. I’ve learned that play is under duress in countries around the world including the post-industrial economies. I’ve met with great generosity of spirit and experienced passionate engagement on behalf of kids with play people players of many nationalities. It seems there is a renaissance of play underway with resilience and risk advancing in tandem. Play matters…

I want to thank PlayGroundology’s readers for your comments, kind words, story ideas. I plan to be sharing stories of great play happenings for another five years and hope you’ll be able to join in.

Ann Hamilton’s Park Avenue Armory Playground

Just as food group giant Danone starts its evian ‘live young’ branding swing through London (see previous post), New York City is getting ready to wrap its own art swing happening that’s been pulling in the crowds at Manhattan’s Park Avenue Armory for the last month.

GlassSwingingComposer Philip Glass coursing through the air at Ann Hamilton’s ‘the event of a thread’. Photo credit – Ellen Knuti. Source – Park Avenue Armory

This weekend is the last chance to have your toes kiss the sky at Ann Hamilton’s ‘the event of a thread’ which closes Sunday, January 6. From the New York Times to twitterville’s vox populi reviews are soaring on this participatory installation that fills the cavernous armory space with billowing motion.

A field of swings, a film of suspended fabric, pigeons, manuscripts and readers, a writer, broadcasts and song all come together to recreate at each instant a new thread similar to but unlike its previous or future iteration. In the opening paragraph of the artist statement for the show Hamilton says:

I can remember the feeling of swinging—how hard we would work for those split seconds, flung at furthest extension, just before the inevitable downward and backward pull, when we felt momentarily free of gravity, a little hiccup of suspension when our hands loosened on the chain and our torsos raised off the seat. We were sailing, so inside the motion—time stopped—and then suddenly rushed again toward us. We would line up on the playground and try to touch the sky, alone together.

Many SwingsPhoto credit – James Ewing. Source – Park Avenue Armory

Art, play, wonder, mindfulness. I wish I could swing, hear, be at Park Avenue Armory this weekend. Ann, we have an Armory here in Halifax, Nova Scotia. Do you want to take the show on the road? Maybe next Christmas season in Canada’s far east hugging the Atlantic’s wintry shores. What a wonderful gift that would be.

tumblr_mfjk1wYkBg1rlnyido1_1280Photo credit – Da Ping Luo. Source – Park Avenue Armory

On The Rocks

On a recent excursion along Nova Scotia’s South Shore we stopped for a leisurely play at Crescent Beach. The kids were drawn to a large outcropping of rocks rising a couple of metres above sea level at its peak. The rock surface was uneven, fissured, pocked with holes and in some places slippery. Like billy goats, Noah and Nellie scrabbled about in search of footholds trying to maintain their balance as they explored the rock’s features and their own climbing abilities.

More On the Rocks photos from Crecent Beach here

Now if this immoveable force of natural beauty were to be transposed to a playground in Canada or the US there is no doubt in my mind that it would not pass a safety inspection. The transgressions against code would be legion. It would be deemed too risky. There was risk at play on the rocks and as parents we were aware of the potential dangers. In fact, the risk made the play all that much sweeter for the kids. Note – during the time they played, there was only one request for a rescue mission.

Meanwhile, in New York City, 11-year-old Ashima Shiraishi is a real climbing sensation. She got her start in Central Park on Rat Rock. I came across her story through Diana Kimball’s submission to The Last Great Thing (submission changes daily and there is no archive) via


I watched the video posted on the NY Times site that accompanies the excellent article by Julie Bosman. It’s electric. Now Ashima is light years beyond the funning that our kids were doing at Crescent Beach. But I think the difference is one of degree. Ashima, Noah and Nellie are engaged in play, pushing boundaries and understanding risk. In the end these are some of the key attributes and skills we want our kids to hold dear and bring with them into adulthood.

In keeping with the spirit of The Last Great Thing folks who inspired this post, I’ll share this.

Last night after supper, my 4 1/2 year old daughter Nellie-Rose and I went out for a solo mission. Older brother and younger sister stayed at home with maman. It’s not often that just the two of us get to go on these little trips. En route to purchase a new lawn mower and pick up a few groceries, Nellie-Rose talked non-stop – questions, stories, more questions, statements and professions of love. It was great just to be able to focus on her. Then she said the last great thing I’ve heard:

if i was playing in some puddles i will be as happy as can be and if you were playing in some puddles with me you can be as happy as can be too

I think of this as a pretty foolproof outlook for the two of us. I feel fortunate that there is lots of playing left ahead of me and that I’ve got a good guide to help me along the way.

MyBlockNYC and a 5-year-old Rock the Playground

A couple of weeks back I tweeted a link to a sweet story I came across in the online New York revue Gothamist. It generated a little appreciative twitter traffic and I’ve been going back for a peek at the video the story is about on a few occasions because, well it’s just so funky, cool and childlike. If you haven’t had a chance to watch An Afternoon At The Playground, sit back and enjoy. Click through here, or on the image below.

Posted on the MyBlockNYC platform

That’s a rollicking ride. Even though I know what to expect, I sometimes get a little woozy as this shot by a 5-year-old POV flashes by. The NYC mom ‘producer’ had a fine idea strapping the iPod Touch to their child to get this kid’s point of view. The tune Nothing But Time by Opus Orange is a marvelous fit for a playful spontaneity romp.

MyBlockNYC is an innovative mapping and video sharing tool. What a wonderful way this would be to map a city’s play places…

“Like other video-sharing websites, MyBlockNYC allows people to post and view videos for free. What sets it apart is the fact that videos are embedded in the map of New York City. People anywhere in the world can click on a particular locale to see what’s been happening there.” (source: Change Observer)

Original story from Gothamisthere.

It’s Saturday and spring will soon be popping so get outside and play some playing.

Experience the SuperSlide at Carsten Höller’s New Museum Exhibition

There’s a new slide in town on Bowery St. in Manhattan. It’s an integral component of Carsten Höller’s Experience exhibition at the New Museum running from October 26 through January 16.

Source: New Museum website

The exhibition’s online promo describes the slide as follows:

Functioning as an alternative transportation system within the Museum, one of Höller’s signature slide installations will run from the fourth floor to the second, perforating ceilings and floors, to shuttle viewers through the exhibition as a giant 102-foot-long pneumatic mailing system.

Höller is a connoisseur of the slide experience and speaks here about his love of slides.

It’s no small feat to install a SuperSlide in the interior of a multi-storey structure. This flickr slideshow captures how it was done at the New Museum.

There’s some slide action as well as a short interview with Höller on this Associated Press YouTube clip.

Here’s a 360 degree view of an earlier Höller slide installation in the Tate Museum’s Turbine Hall in London.

Finally, as we slip, slide out of this post, a little video from the Tate exhibition.

Have you had a chance to ride a Höller slide? Share your experience with PlayGroundology.

Parkour Playgrounds

Parkour and playgrounds go together like peanut butter and jelly. This first video arrived in my inbox, one of a series in a google alert. This is a low intensity parkour excursion. It’s quite possible that the young lads putting it together were sending up a spoof.

I think of this one as polka-dot parkour, very baby steps into the world of free running. It’s a bonus here to get a small glimpse of a German playground. Note the giant platter. I’m imagining the fun of taking a round spinny spin on that, no handholds – sliding to the outside. Thanks to these young videographers for sparking my curiosity and getting me to poke about looking for parkour playground videos.

It’s all upswing tempo, acrobatics and gyrations in this New York City Chinatown demonstration. By definition, parkour doesn’t take place within contained spaces but playgrounds seem to be a natural environment to launch into a practice, or a show. The result is a positive multi-user playscape.

Fine street theatre that I would gladly take in live. You can read more on parkour here.

A solo show in Corpus Christi, Texas has a more laid back rhythm though the movement is no less fluid as the runner eloquently makes his way over, around and through the obstacles of a Leathers playground. With all the wood, I’m wondering about slivers.

Six-year-old Noah and I spent some quality viewing time early this morning checking the parkour fare online. He likes what he sees and is already putting it into practice inside the house using furniture as props. I may have some parkour legs ready to spring right under my nose. It could be enough to inspire me. Here’s a preview of the aptly named documentary, My Playground , that set his eyes (and mine) popping.

Here is the final scene in our progression – a playground designed specifically for parkour. Plug ‘n Play is a first for Copenhagen and possibly the world.

Team JiYo were asked to help make it all happen

Will the parkour-playground love story become more intertwined? As parkour’s popularity grows we can anticipate that playgrounds will continue to attract the gravity defying, urban, acrobat class. I hope you’ll see them at a playground near you soon.

The Great Manhattan Playground Adventure

There’s a magical nanny crisscrossing Manhattan of late with Lexi and Annie her two young charges. Sarah Swymner, who has adopted the nom de plume Sarah Poppins, has set out to visit all of Manhattan’s public playgrounds over the course of the summer. The trio of adventurers is already well advanced in its quest – 100 down, 107 to go. The stats and the story are featured in an article published in todays’s edition of

Swymner aka Poppins is inviting the world along for the ride in her NYC Park Hopper blog. Reporter Jeff Mays caught up with nanny and the kids in Harlem’s Jackie Robinson Park. If the smiles are any indication, it seems the explorers love their gig.

Photo Credit – Jeff Mays, Jackie Robinson Park, Harlem

This is truly the kind of nanny I’d want to have with my kids. The élan of discovery presents great opportunities for play and learning. It reminds me so much of Tomoyo, the young woman who cared for and loved our young lad a few years back. I can just imagine her leading the charge on a project like this too.

New York City has a lot of great playgrounds and useful online information available at the click of mouse. Now the city’s info will be supplemented with Sarah, Lexi and Annie’s contributions. Here’s hoping that they will find the time to play and be playful in the remaining 104 playgrounds and possibly inspire nannies and parents elsewhere to take up the cause of play and urban exploration.

Update – Nanny Poppins interview with Village Voice blogg.

The Day the Trading Stopped

I have a recurring daydream. It plays out during business hours on sunstreaming afternoons. Before my Walter Mitty groove takes hold, I am firmly ensconced in a swivel chair scanning the perpetual email crawl on my monitor. I am one of those hapless urbanites who toil daily in a glass wrap around monolith.

Without warning, I am transported effortlessly by an unknown force. Perhaps it’s the flickering monitor that sets things in motion, a modern through the looking glass portal. I don’t recognize my new surroundings. As I get my bearings, I see that there are no white rabbits to chase. I’m in a shaded canyon teeming with traffic hemmed in by tall buildings that block the afternoon sun. The sidewalks are busy and everyone appears to be in a hurry, en route to somewhere.

There’s a feel to this place, a certain je ne sais quoi. Then I see the sign – “Wall St.”.

As if on some preordained cue, buildings on both sides of the concrete and glass chasm start emptying. Elevators are doing double duty delivering their charges to the ground floor. Men and women in business attire are streaming through doors. In a flash the sidewalks are congested with traders, brokers and hedgefunders.

People are being jostled into the street disrupting traffic. There are looks of puzzlement on faces throughout the crowd. Quitting time is still hours away.

Wakefulness is rippling through this flash flood of office dwellers. A spontaneous cheer rises in the air. It’s an unspoken cry to play, to abandon, to fun. Jackets are doffed, heels exchanged for more comfortable footwear and ties thrown to the winds slither like snakes on the updrafts.

I stand and watch from my vantage point and am quickly swept up in the lightness. There is a jaunty exodus along Wall St. emptying into Broadway to the west, into Water St. and beyond to the east.

In an instant I’m airborne with a bird’s eye view of Manhattan stretching out below me. A wending pilgrimage to parks, playgrounds and green spaces is transforming the city into a kinetic wonderland. Imagination Playground at Burling Slip, South Street Seaport is the first to be ‘discovered’ by some of the Wall St. crowd. A constant stream rapidly fills the space. The office dwellers begin to lose their inhibitions as they move large, blue, tinkertoy blocks and straddle the gunnels of the landlocked boat. Each imaginative gesture is an invitation to embrace the parade of play unselfconsciously.

It’s a hookah smoking caterpillar kind of moment, a suspension of norms. The early escape from offices, government buildings, academic institutions and construction sites is being replicated across the city. Echoes of the Woodstock generation, of the golden and stardust, of getting back to the garden become my internal groove. The magic lives in simple pleasures. Swings can’t stop kissing the sky and park fountains are luxurious relief from the sticky, sweat heat.

Play is a heady elixir and no playscape eludes the roving funsters. Playgrounds are alive with multiple varieties of tag, hide and seek, red rover and all forms of of make believe. Those who left play by the wayside years and decades ago are slaking their thirst, wondering why they ever stopped. There are the followers, leaders, naturals, the maladroit. On closer examination, neither gender, age, or physical conditioning seem to offer any clues as to how an individual takes to the play experience.

The invasion is rocking and rollicking throughout the city. On West 42nd St., people are going wild with their find – a reclining bronze man, an installation in anthropomorphic glory.

This is a joie de jouer sculpture and Playground hot wires the adults’ imaginations.

Further north Central Park offers a paradise of green and a series of playgrounds being put through their paces like never before. Smart phones help the uninitiated to find treasures because New York City’s playgrounds are hanging on the net for everyone to see.

TV crews have lots of digital images capturing this unprecedented orgy of play for the evening news. Wherever they show up, it’s not long before they abdicate and jump head on into the fray. Play Power seems to be having an impact. I see gleaming glistening in many eyes. Buff, peaked, or rubenesque all the clambering, scrambling, feet-to-sky swinging is bringing on the friskiness factor. Although there is no empirical evidence of amorous assignations to come, there is a libido buzz from all the big breath, good, clean fun.

Just as things are heating up, I’m yanked out of my reverie. Back in Halifax, I think of the Manhattan Miracle, adults united in play, and wonder if it’s a concept that can ever be realized. It’s certainly worth holding as an ideal – strengthening the ties to the child within, playing for play’s sake and discovering the grand adventure of simple pleasures.

There are a couple of downtown playgrounds in Halifax. To date, they have not hosted an influx of adults looking for clean fun during business hours. I fervently believe though that a group of adults could crew the wooden boat, benefit from the experience and have some fun to boot. More adults playing will ultimately mean more children playing. Surely this would boost the overall happiness quotient and in turn influence gains in more traditional metrics like GDP.

Set sail today for play. There are many resources to choose from, not least of which are memories from your own childhood. Here are three that I came across recently and have been shared on a variety of social media platforms.

1. The Key to Happiness : A Taboo for Adults

It’s a vision problem that no laser surgery can cure, a hyperopia that keeps us from seeing the central source of happiness right next to us. That problem is called adulthood. Those who are afflicted with this condition have trouble focusing on nearby objects of amusement and the realm that delivers the most enjoyment per square inch: play. Adults are oblivious to what they knew as kids — that play is where you live.

2. The Case for Play

Lucas Sherman and Aniyah McKenzie are building a house in Central Park. It is small, even by Manhattan standards, and the amenities leave something to be desired. But Lucas, who is 6, and Aniyah, who is 7, seem pleased with their handiwork.

3. Deep Fun – Bernie DeKoven

The happy man is not he who seems thus to others, but who seems thus to himself.
– Publilius Syrus

I continue to have my daydream. Some afternoons I land in different cities. I’m always joyful when the buildings begin to empty and play begins an organic remembering.

Long live the trinity of play, fun and discovery!


Tour of Otterness’ 42nd Street Playground

Playground packs in more fun than the proverbial barrel full of monkeys. Tom Otterness’ anthropomorphic sculpture installation is a space for wonderfalls, a place for children to imagine, to make believe and play.

Back in January I had the opportunity to interview Tom for PlayGroundology’s initial musings on the rich world of playscapes. Tom’s iconic installation is so arresting that I asked him if I could use a photo of Playground in my masthead as well as making it the subject of my first post. Permission granted and PlayGroundology now has a great visual that represents the spirit of the blog.

From the outset, Manhattan’s Bronze Guy has been a popular post. In June of this year it became even more so, as some of the millions from around the world who saw Playground as wallpaper on the Google homepage started looking for more information. It created a spike of visits to Tom’s homepage and to PlayGroundology.

Just recently I came across a video on Youtube that gives a partial tour of the 42nd Street PlayGround Bronze Guy. It has renewed my appetite to be there and play with my kids. I hope you enjoy this short vid as much as I did. Many thanks to Youtuber Jiunyiwu.

All materials, unless otherwise attributed or credited, copyright ⓒ 2010 Alex Smith.

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