Category Archives: playground

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’.

We Play, Therefore We Are

Today we’re welcoming Sarah Kean-Price from the UK, more precisely from Bath, England. Sarah emailed me a couple of months ago to see if she could publish a guest post on philosophy and play. As I am singularly unqualified to speculate on this topic, I jumped at the chance to have her share her thoughts with PlayGroundology’s readers.

When Sarah isn’t having great fun mishmashing culture and philosophy, she writes clear, centred and personable content over at Tweet @marmaladecopy to say hi.

Being as you are reading a playground-centric blog, you probably already agree that playgrounds are a good and useful thing. A manner of thing that leads only to good ends and useful experiences. But why? How can this be argued? And what exactly do good and useful mean, anyway? Do these sound like pointless questions?

They’re not. I want to make sure we’re singing from the same hymn sheet as this guest post about playgrounds is one of philosophy and the first thing you do in philosophy is define your terms.

So, let’s get things straight – I will be using the words good and useful to mean ‘a thing, entity or process that is overwhelmingly beneficial to the concerned party’. Falling off a spinning roundabout is a horrible, horrible process but, my goodness, along the way you will learn something about physics, bodily response, probability, safety, risk-taking and playing nicely with others – this is why we can call it good.

The child amidst his baubles is learning the action of light, motion, gravity, muscular force…

- Ralph Waldo Emerson

‘Personal development’ refers to the process of accumulating experience and becoming an individual with a distinct personality. These are good because, when we know ourselves better , we can all then work better together to achieve our collective goals of knowledge, spirituality, family, community and progress.

Finally, I imagine we all agree what playgrounds are and have to make certain assumptions about what we agree to be good for society because this is only short and this isn’t the arena for the nitty-gritty of ethics.

Still with me? Welcome to doing philosophy. It’s great. I swear it is, really.

What do philosophers think about play?

When you think of Philosophy, names like Plato and Descartes and concepts like ‘is it all real?’ spring to mind. However, some philosophers have looked into how play can be considered a Good Thing and part of humanity’s flourishing development. We’ll look at how playground use is practically useful (i.e. how it makes for good society) and existentially useful (i.e. how it helps us understand, deal with and live within the human condition.). So, what are the arguments?

Broadly, philosophers think that play is good and useful because:

− It defines the kind of person we are and engenders values.
− Playtime demands order and adherence which are useful behaviours.
− It frees us from ‘the tyranny of purposes’ because play exists only for itself.
− It creates a usable understanding of irony and absurdity.

Why is play practically useful to us?

At base, personalities are defined by preferences – “I am the kind of person who likes biscuits.”, “I am the kind of person that does not like hard pillows.”.

You get to develop your personality when you have opportunities to try out different practices and ways of displaying preferences. Playing in a playground is great for this.

Maybe you like the blunt and repetitive feel of climbing up and sliding down.

Maybe you like the open-ended and soothing motion of a swing.

Maybe you’re a thrill-seeker and you find that, no matter how hard you push and run, roundabouts never quite go fast enough.

Or maybe you’d rather hide under the climbing frame alone and invent a totally different kind of place; a cave or castle or home or den.

Our playgroundees are learning things about themselves which, in turn, enables the concept of choice-making: “I like to feel the pull of gravity and therefore, I want to go on the swing”.

Almost all creativity involves purposeful play.

– A. Maslow

Next, it affects the way that we display preference and make choices. Doing so enters our users into social contracts. Playing together starts to form an idea of what is good and bad social interaction. Consequences lead from certain behaviours and we invoke certain social qualities – either through care-givers or from seeing others respond to our behaviour.

Experience in this area will lead to a considered, developed personality which, in turn, is a good thing for society.

Next, the more hyper-philosophical.

How playgrounds are good for coping with life

Philosophically, the human condition is a tricky one. Namely – what is the point of it all? Many of us are religious or really strong advocates of certain social systems (like socialism or conservatism). If you adhere to these systems and feel that you’ve got it all figured out, this next part may not ring as true for you.

For the rest of us though, some of the existential thoughts surrounding playgrounds and playing are useful. To recap; existential philosophy is concerned with our reasons for and the understanding of how and why we live.

The most important sentiment here is that playground time creates a world within a world. Play allows you to seek meaning that is wholly grounded in the present, rather than the future. It concentrates on the deed rather than the goal.

Culture arises and unfolds in and as we play.

– J. Huizinga

The problem with working towards goals – whether they be a work promotion, raising a child or examination – is that they are inherently destructive. To achieve a goal, you must complete it and it becomes no more. Then you find another one. And achieve that. And so on. (Please note that I am not stating that having and attaining goals is morally or ethically bad.).

When you start a play goal, you impose an order and adherence to a make-believe situation that exists purely for itself. It has a natural end-point that doesn’t necessitate the setting of another.

This is particularly relevant because it can be argued that there isn’t much of a meaningful point to life. We all have goals but what’s really the point of it all in the end, really, when you get down to it? Unless you feel there is some form of salvation at the end of it, life’s meaning can be difficult to find.

As such, purposes are relatively futile and consume your present. Instead of seeking meaning via the fulfilment of future conditions that will endlessly repeat, you find it concretely in the present through your play.

The real philosophical value of play

And here is what our theorists argue is the real value of play, philosophically speaking. In moments of play, you step outside the drive of goal-fulfillment and reside within the calm of play’s simplicity, orderliness and it’s for-itself-ness. You escape the ‘tyranny of purposes’ where everything has a reason for being done, endlessly focusing on the future instead of appreciating the present.

Moreover, play is excellent preparation for life as it helps you become familiar with irony and absurdity. You become aware of the idea of assumed roles, doing things that are nominally pointless and the idea that you might say and do one thing whilst the reality of the situation is very different.

Play allows us to develop alternatives to violence and despair; it helps us learn perseverance and gain optimism.

– Stuart Brown M.D.

Irony and absurdity are more important than ever these days. We live in a knowledge-saturated environment that constantly generates new ways of doing things whilst being full of skepticism and disrespect for many of our traditional values and qualities.

Despite this, we still set life goals and still place value in certain ways of living. Understanding that we can and will want to take part in things without the reasoning of an over-arching system – like playing house, pretending to tunnel in the sand or running around for a game of Tag – is a lesson that can be universally applied and appreciated as you grow.

We play, therefore we are. Nos ludere, ergo sunt. Watcha think of that Descartes?