Category Archives: playground

St. Kilda for Patron Saint of Playgrounds

Do I hear any votes for St. Kilda as the Patron Saint of Playgrounds? It seems that Kilda has never been canonized so he/she is up for grabs. As my Down Under flub from a couple of weeks back demonstrates, there’s at least two reasons in Australia that Kilda would make a great nominee for a patronly protector.

Seeing an opportunity to help celebrate the 30th anniversary of Australia’s St Kilda Adventure Playground I posted photos on the PlayGroundology blog and FB Page. The one that appears below was quite popular given the number of times it was liked, shared and commented upon.

NOT the 30th anniversary St. Kilda. Photo credit – Fernando de Sousa; (CC BY-SA 2.0). Source: flickr

Little did I know however that there are two St Kilda Adventure Playgrounds in Australia. The error was kindly pointed out by the great folks at Melbourne Playgrounds and by Andrew Coulson who works with Adelaide’s local government.

Yes, that’s right, in Australia there is double the pleasure with St. Kilda – one in Melbourne and one in Adelaide about 750 kilometres apart, just close enough that you could hop in a car and play at both on the same day. If there is any kind soul, agency, media house, or government out there who would like to sponsor my family to take on this feat of adventurous play and report on it, please don’t hesitate to contact us.

As it turns out, both photos I used to illustrate the 30th anniversary celebrations of the Adelaide St. Kilda Adventure Playground were of the wrong playground. The only saving grace on the blog post was a YouTube video that was shot in the ‘right’ St. Kilda and a link to a pinterest board full of photos.

The mix up gave rise to another idea for PlayGroundology – Map Maker Mondays. On a couple of Mondays every month, I’ll be plotting playgrounds on Our Treasure Map and sharing the newly plotted playgrounds on the PlayGroundology FB page. St. Kilda Adventure Playground – Adelaide and St. Kilda Adventure Playground – Melbourne are the inaugural Map Maker Monday playgrounds. Join me and plot some of your own on the Our Treasure Map platform.

Here’s a photo of the real deal 30th anniversary St. Kilda Adventure Playground in Adelaide. Apologies for any confusion caused by my earlier errors in identification.

There is a ruggedness that runs through these two adventure playgrounds. That’s somehow fitting as their shared name migrated to the southern hemisphere with the Scots. St. Kilda is a small archipelago at the western reaches of the Outer Hebrides.

In the 1850s, forty-two islanders emigrated to Australia. Many of the emigrants died en-route, but a few settled in Melbourne, and to this day a suburb of the city is called St Kilda – named after the schooner The Lady of St Kilda which was anchored off the shore at around this time. Source: St. Kilda

There has been no permanent human habitation there since 1930 and the islands are now a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

And that is my Tale of the Two Kildas with a Saint thrown in for good measure.

Cast your vote today for St. Kilda as the Patron Saint of Playgrounds….

Playground in Colonial Kowloon

It was the year Neil Armstrong debuted the original moonwalk. Get Back and Honky Tonk Woman were number one on the UK charts for six and five weeks respectively. Halfway around the world, the tail end of the sixties saw Hong Kong emerging from protests against British colonial rule.

Circa 1969, the first ever adventure playground in Hong Kong opened in Kowloon.

Source: The National Archives (United Kingdom).

It looks like it was a funky place to play.

Source: The National Archives (United Kingdom).

I’d love to hear from anyone who spent time in this playground growing up. I’m also looking for help to track down some more photos. If you have information or stories on this Kowloon adventure playground, please drop a line at

My brother goofing at Victoria Park, Hong Kong.

In present day Hong Kong, the government has developed a handy online playground directory but none of them hold a candle to Kowloon 1969. It was a good year, looks like they broke the mold.

Proxy Playgrounds

Occasionally, intrepid photographers comb the planet looking for playgrounds to immortalize digitally for PlayGroundology readers. Truth is, that’s me in my Walter Mitty moments, dreaming wildly of a posse of professional playground shooters on assignment and sharing their best shots here.

In fact, what’s happening is that I am sometimes able to cajole traveling friends and family to take a few snaps for me of interesting playgrounds they happen across. These folks become my proxies taking me, and by extension those of you who tune in here, to playgrounds I have never visited before.

Near Loch Lomond, Scotland

Thanks to my septuagenarian parents, PlayGroundology has snagged some photos of Scottish, Swedish and Dutch playgrounds. The Scottish shots are in the vicinities of Loch Lomond, Strone and Inverkip, familiar places full of memories reaching back nearly 60 years for them.

I don’t remember much in the way of playgrounds when I first went Clydeside as a 5-year-old. I was a kindergarten kid at Larkfield School in Greenock for a couple of months and remember playing in the schoolyard but don’t recall any equipment.

Near Loch Lomond, Scotland

On another visit in the late ’60s, I remember a playground up behind the shops close by my granma’s place on Auchmead Rd. I also recall the most grueling ‘game’ I ever played. In the backyard of the Council houses, I had to run a gauntlet between two lines of 15 kids per line who whaled away at me with their feet, fists and knees as I ran through as quickly as I could. Following this medieval-like ordeal I did get a grudging acceptance from the local kids. It was the rite of passage for the Canadian boy on the block.

Near Loch Lomond, Scotland

For more Loch Lomond playground photos from my parents’ excellent playground adventure, check PlayGroundology FB. Addiitonal photos will be posted to PlayGroundology FaceBook over the coming days.

Before you go, take a wee listen to Runrig’s rendition of a song long associated with Scotland, Loch Lomond. It’s a tune, a place and a playground.

You may also like these posts with photos provided by friends.

In the Name of Play – On Assignment, Dateline Atlanta

Paris Playgrounds a la Carte

Next Post


Check out the best of London’s playgrounds with well known advocates and lovers of innovative playground design Tim Gill (rethinking childhood) and Paige Johnson (Playscapes). There is a parallel event happening in NYC too in this first ever and hopefully recurring Open for Play. My only disappointment about this great news is that I won’t be able to join all the playground aficionados in London. I’m sure there will be posts in both Tim and Paige’s blogs.

Félicitations for organizing what is sure to be a great event.

Originally posted on Rethinking Childhood:

Glamis adventure playgroundMy plan to showcase some of London’s most playful places has been in the pipeline for a while. And now it’s around the corner. For all the latest info, follow this link to the mighty Playscapes blog – including handy onward links to the Open House website, with more details and maps for all the venues.

View original 49 more words

Underpasses Overlooked

An underutilized urban wasteland, a drive by blight for sore eyes has been transformed into parkland with a playground in downtown Toronto. This component of WATERFRONToronto’s West Don Lands project is the largest repurposing of underpasses in Canada and the first of its kind in Ontario’s capital. The total cost for the 1.05 hectares (2.7 acres) park is budgeted at $4.7 million.

Underpass Park Playground. Source: WATERFRONToronto

Underpass Park’s Phase I which includes a children’s play area is now open. The entire project is scheduled for completion in the spring of 2013. Here’s a video of construction at the site last fall that shows some of the already installed playground equipment.

Those who live in the new residential spaces being created as part of the overall redevelopment of the area will appreciate an opportunity to enjoy this small oasis. I wonder though about the noise and pollution levels caused by the steady stream of cars overhead. Toronto Star urban issues and architecture journalist, Christopher Hume, sees some greater significance in the creation of this park as it relates to Toronto’s overall development.

“As much as anything, Underpass Park offers hope that the city might manage to keep up with the future after all.”

Underpass Park Playground. Source: WATERFRONToronto

There is much of the same sentiment in an opinion piece published earlier this week in the Toronto Star.

Kudos to WATERFRONToronto for the innovative spirit in the remodeling of yucky urban blah.

Underpass Park Playground. Source: WATERFRONToronto

In Halifax we have spaces in the urban core that could benefit from this kind of deep makeover. Do you have any examples of similar projects in your city – recreating beauty and useable space from post industrial neglect?

Global Village Playground at Expo 67

Forty-five years ago this playground made quite a splash at Expo 67, the 20th century’s most successful World Fair. For a few weeks during Canada’s 100th birthday festivities, Montreal’s Expo was the cultural crossroads of the world. In that global village mashup, that summer of celebration and exuberance, the Canadian pavilion put children front and centre.

From CCA’s Cornelia Hahn Oberlander Archive

The playground at the Canadian pavilion was a must stop for the 10 and under set. By North American standards it was cutting edge, ahead of its time, as can be seen in this short excerpt from a National Film Board of Canada documentary.

Landscape architect Cornelia Oberlander had a great stage to share her playground design ideas with an international audience and the 30,000 appreciative kids who played there over the course of the summer.

The playground especially designed for Expo ’67, in conjunction with the Children’s Creative Centre, should provide some new ideas for crowded urban communities. Everywhere in cities there are areas that could be made into “vest-pocket parks”, with mounds, ravines, treehouses, streams for wading, and places for building.

See Oberlander’s entire Space for Creative Play text and a letter to the editor of Maclean’s magazine about the playground here.

From CCA’s Cornelia Hahn Oberlander Archive

Cornelia Oberlander is now a doyenne of the landscape architect circle. I have seen her referred to as the Queen of Green. The ideas she put in play at Expo 67 are increasingly in vogue. A case in point is the burgeoning interest in natural playscapes.

From CCA’s Cornelia Hahn Oberlander Archive

Cornelia, thanks for the Expo 67 gift that keeps on giving. It’s as relevant and exciting today as it was forty-five years ago.

More on Expo 67 here and here.

More on Cornelia Oberlander in future PlayGroundology posts.

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’.