Category Archives: Philadelphia

Philadelphia Freedom – Shine the Light on Play

In Philadelphia, the Smith Memorial Playground is a beacon. The space reverberates with tumultuous noise as kids high kick it into discovery mode. After more than a century, this place remains a play haven. However, the Smith oasis is not representative of play opportunities in public spaces throughout the city.

Art of Active Play_process3One of the many activities taking place during Philadelphia’s Play Space

Play Space, a partnership between the Community Design Collaborative and The Delaware Valley Association for the Education of Young Children (DVAEYC), is pumping up the volume on the play dialogue. The kidcentric project is active with local and international communities exploring modalities of play that go beyond standardized spaces. This is no off the shelf, prefab play solutions operation.

Play Space‘s 18-month horizon got underway this summer with architect Alexa Bosse leading the project. She’s a program associate with Community Design Collaborative as well as a landscape architectural designer, longtime community volunteer and mother of 3 1/2 year old twins. Alexa has no shortage of reasons to get active and up the ante for play in Philadelphia.

Play Space logo with tagline

We’re helping to bring the value of play to the forefront and underline how much it’s really needed especially in a city where many people don’t have access to a lot of outdoor space.

Alexa Bosse – Manager, Play Space

Play Space is part of Infill Philadelphia which engages innovative design in the revitalization of neighbourhoods. Over the course of the program there is a lecture series, a youth build with playable structures as well as work with educators and home-based child care centres.

Accessible play makes for better communities and stronger families.

Alexa Bosse

Alexa is most enthusiastic about the design competition that will benefit three public agencies – a library, a school and the city’s parks and recreation branch. Although the USA has significant design restrictions, many associated with safety concerns, the dialogue that Play Space is leading is making inroads. With special friends like author Susan Solomon and filmmaker Erin Davis, who screened her documentary The Land, helping to spur the conversation, alternative visions of play spaces are gaining more currency.

Art of Active Play - Balancing Act - Smith PlaygroundBalancing Act, Art of Active Play – Smith Playground

In fact, decision makers from the public agencies were initially very prescriptive in their directions. They have now relaxed the prescriptive directions in the interest of encouraging creativity and attracting a wide range of design teams to the competition. Alexa hopes that the result of this opening up will be finding a balance that emphasizes creativity and innovation while challenging people’s thinking about what a play space can be in an urban landscape. The best case scenario is that the design competition attracts models that can be replicated or adapted for other sites.

My hope is that we’ll attract some international interest in the design competition. We’re so ready for it.

Alexa Bosse

Competition open until November 30

All the information required to enter is here.

Nota: one member of the team must be a licensed professional – architect, landscape architect, or engineer – in the country in which they are practicing. Although not a requirement, Play Space is encouraging multi-disciplinary teams that draw on the knowledge and experience of educators, parents, psychologists and others with a close connection to children.

For Alexa, the Play Space objectives present a winning scenario for a city that is welcoming back millennials with young families.

  1. Encourage innovative design
  2. Improve access
  3. Promote dialogue and collaboration
  4. Build Awareness
  5. Provide prototypical design solutions

While we wait in anticipation for the results of the design competition, let’s turn the clock back to some images of Philadelphia play spaces from the 1950s and 60s. Click on the image below, or its cutline for a selection of vintage play sourced at the Philly History photo archives.

Philly 10Youngsters frolic on the igloo climbers at the Pennypack Playground, Philadelphia – 1958

Memorials – London, Philadelphia, Washington, D.C.

The dedication of a memorial playground is a great way to commemorate a person’s life. Some honoured in this manner have walked the world stage. For others their influence has been more modest but no less important to those they touched. For all remembered in this way, a breath of magic is released each time a child calls their name. What follows is a snapshot of three memorial playgrounds.


In June of 1964, Robert F. Kennedy Jr. presided over the official opening of a new playground in Washington D.C. It wasn’t just any playground as the plaque unveiled that day attested – “This playground was named by the young people of this area as a memorial to the spirit of youth of John F. Kennedy.” Prior to its opening, there were virtually no recreational services for the approximately 10,000 children that called this part of Washington home. The $500,000 investment in the playground was an almost unheard of sum in the early 60s.

Ebony magazine covered the excitement and pride generated in the community by this new symbol of hope through play. The John F. Kennedy Memorial Playground had all the standard equipment associated with playgrounds and more.

The new play space also had a selection of military hardware and a marine obstacle course that wouldn’t pass muster today except perhaps to be
included in a round up of dangerous playground equipment. The triangular slide, jet fighter and locomotive being clambered over certainly didn’t put a damper on opening day activities. The Ebony photo spread lights up with smile to smile faces, a bunch of happy looking. we’re having fun kids.

John F. Kennedy’s memory continues to be honoured through the community centre at the corner of 7th and P Streets that bears his name. The original playground is no longer there. It lives on though in the memories of thousands of aging boomers who played in that extraordinary space. Play has not been forsaken. There are now two of the ubiquitous, modular plastic playgrounds there but their allure pales in comparison with what was.

In London, England the Diana, Princess of Wales Memorial Playground in Kensington Gardens commemorates the life and work of the late Princess. Peter Pan author J M Barrie was the guiding force behind an earlier playground built on the same site in 1906. Land Use Consultants pay tribute to Barrie in their creation that echoes Never Never Land. The memorial playground was officially opened in June 2000 at a cost of 1.7 ₤ million. It was developed in response to suggestions from the public on how Diana’s life could be honoured. There is a good slide show of the playground posted at KaBOOM!

In Philadelphia, the Smith Memorial Playgrounds have been welcoming children for over 100 years. Back then the site was in the country. Now known as SMITH the Kids’ Play Place in the Park it’s run by a non-profit organization and governed by a volunteer Board of Directors. In addition to the three-story mansion playhouse and giant wooden slide measuring 39′ long by 13′ wide, there is a 6.5 acre playground with over 50 pieces of equipment.

Richard and Sara Smith were the original benefactors of this children’s wonderland. As participants in the American Playground Movement they were among the pioneers who advocated and created publicly supported playspaces at the turn of the 20th century. It is through their untiring work that an awareness grew around civic responsibility vis à vis children and play.

To see more of SMITH the Kids’ Play Place in the Park click through to their YouTube channel. Please note, admission is free.

In some way, every playground is a memorial to the unstoppable energy that courses through it, to laughter, friendships, daring feats and shared memories. They are memorials to childhood itself and to the people who made them happen. Long live playgrounds…

Photo credits in order of appearance

    1. Ebony
    2. Ebony
    3. Land Use Consultants

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

If you’re a non-profit or not-for-profit group, feel free to hyperlink, excerpt, or reproduce the contents of this post. Please reference PlayGroundology. For commercial reproduction of this content, please consult the editor.

A Spot of Time Lapse

I remember those summer playground days when time was gone in a flash. The call to come in for supper seemed like it cut through the sky, the clouds, the blue. Wasn’t it just minutes earlier that we had bolted down our lunches? This sense of compression still happens though not as frequently and with less drama.

There’s nothing like a good playground time lapse. If there’s been pent up energy in the house for a few days, it can seem like the kids really are in this accelerated reality. Thanks to Guillaume Labrie in France for this fine afternoon at the playground. If we could make the Canadian winter melt away with the same magic, post-Olympics of course, it would be a wonderful thing.

Labrie is passionate about time lapse photography. He runs an excellent site – time lapse – that provides tips on techniques, information on equipment, a blog and a brilliant selection of time lapse films. Note the site is in French. No French language knowledge necessary to view the films.

Labrie did mention a great ancillary benefit of his work on Playground Afternoon, “My two girls couldn’t stop laughing when they first saw the video.” He added that while taking photos, “I stayed close to my girls because taking photos of children in playgrounds can be misinterpreted in France. I also had my partner with me.” This is a good cautionary tip that my wife Mé draws to my attention when I’m out taking photos in Halifax for another blogging project, Playground Chronicles.

Adults can get in on the Keystone Cops kinetic activity too as these volunteers demonstrate in Philadelphia. This playground-in-a-day is a 200 person effort in conjunction with KaBOOM! and the Wharton School of Business. It’s the modern, urban equivalent of a barn raising, a community hard at work for its kids. The video was shot between 8h00 and 16h00 with five hours total shooting time resulting in 3600 frames at five second intervals. Thanks to Brian Biggs for the video and the original music.

Brian is a children’s book illustrator. He’s mad about time lapse and loves the creative process. “I’m always looking for an excuse to time lapse. It might be carving pumpkins, decorating a tree. I like doing it. It’s fun. I thought it would be interesting to set up the camera and record what was done in one day. I draw pictures all day long but I’ve always liked film and video. Every chance we get, I like to bring in some creativity into what my kids and I are doing whether we’re cooking dinner or wrapping presents.”

Over 200 volunteers were moving and grooving all day in a keystone builders style. As the day was getting underway, Brian set up on the roof. One of the toughest challenges was to position the camera correctly to get the best wide angle shot. “I don’t go in advance and scout it out or anything. I never know what’s going to happen. We get there that day and real men are hammering and nailing, I’m up on the roof screwing around with my nerd gear,” he says with a chuckle.

At the end of a long day’s work both the playground and the time lapse video were a wrap. So what did Brian’s 10 and 9 year old kids think? “Wow!” That was the unanimous reaction of everyone who gathered around for a sneak peek on the laptop display.

Volunteering with KaBOOM! was a positive experience for Brian and his kids. He’d consider doing it again if the kids were involved too. The build at Wissahickon Charter School in Philadelphia had the additional attraction of being in the local area as well as being a school his kids attended.

The Wharton School of Business contacted Brian for a high quality DVD version of the the short film. They now use this time lapse video as part of their orientation for new students. It’s a fun and effective means to introduce new recruits to the school’s commitment to community involvement. Brian’s all for that. He enjoys volunteering in the local community when he has the opportunity.

I’ve turned my hand to this too though in a much less polished manner than either Guillaume or Brian. Well, my end result doesn’t even look like a distant cousin. Here’s my first and and only attempt to date.

It’s pretty choppy and a little hard on the eyes. I’ll keep playing around to make a better product. In addition to experimentation, some of the links below will help set me on the right track. Note – my two little ones find this quite hilarious.

Dust off your camera, take a few thousand frames and create the magic of condensed time at the playground.

There are numerous examples of time lapse at playgrounds on the web. Check your favourite video hosting service to see what they have. KaBOOM!’s video collection is also well worth a visit.

Quick links

All things photography – Time Lapse Photography

Time Lapse Photography – Wikipedia

An Introduction to Time Lapse Photography

The Ultimate Guide to Time Lapse Photography

Time Lapse on Facebook

Gorgas Park – Brian’s favourite playground in Philadelphia

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

If you’re a non-profit or not-for-profit group, feel free to hyperlink, excerpt, or reproduce the contents of this post. Please reference PlayGroundology. For commercial reproduction of this content, please consult the editor.