Category Archives: Pop Culture

TV Promo for Local Investment Stars Playground Manufacturer

French and English language television stations in Canada are broadcasting a 30 second pitch in support of a labour led capital investment fund promoting economic development – Le Fonds de solidarité FTQ. The star of the show is playground manufacturer Jambette. Viewers watch as a play structure is manufactured before their eyes, then are asked to invest locally.

The Fédération des Travailleurs et Travailleuses de Québec (FTQ) – Quebec Federation of Labour – has teamed up with Jambette to make a tasteful promo linking investment in local enterprises today to economic well-being tomorrow. The catchy techno riff is taken from Pop Goes the World by the 1980s Montréal group Men Without Hats.

Playgrounds representing hope for the future, positioned as an investment – this is something I love to see. What’s more, there’s a funky beat.

Jambette is well known on the Canadian scene with installations from coast to coast. Here’s one of their structures at the École Stella Maris in Québec’s Magdalen Islands.

Great Playground News from the California Legislature

Historic playgrounds in California are one step closer to preservation and protection. Assembly Bill 2701 was approved by the State Senate yesterday and now advances to the Governor’s desk for signature. This legislation is the first of its kind in the United States and could serve as a model for other jurisdictions seeking to create a legislative framework for the preservation of historically significant playgrounds. San Gabriel’s La Laguna Playground designed by Benjamin Dominguez in the 1960s served as the inspiration to move this bill forward.



For more information on the preservation of San Gabriel’s La Laguna playground visit Friends of La Laguna and read PlayGroundology’s post, Monster Mash – Conservation Wins the Day in San Gabriel, California.

Photos courtesy of Friends of La Laguna.

Playgrounds in the Media II

Imagination Playground’s Flagship Opens in Manhattan

It’s been a breathless sweep of media coverage this past week for Imagination Playgrounds, the Rockwell Group and New York City. A crowd of kids and dignitaries, including architect David Rockwell and New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg, descended on Burling Slip in Manhattan to put the first permanent Imagination Playground through its paces. There was big, blue fun and delicious visuals of dreamful play. This new world is sketched using a moveable feast of oversize building blocks, the outline of a sailing vessel and sand and water play. The scenes are ever changing.

According to this National Public Radio report, Imagination Playgrounds, in addition to representing a revolution in play and design, can also play a role in economic development. The kids also get their say in this piece spelling out what fun is all about.

Click here for the Imagination Playground’s own media roll up – everyone from The New Yorker to Time. Check the rockwellgroup – click Portfolio and then Educate for another series of articles. Other write ups worth a peek include Rockwell Makes a Ruckus at Imagination Playground in The Architect’s Newspaper Blog, Rockwell’s Imagination Playground Is a Cutting-Edge Learning Experiment in Co.Design, Burling Slip’s Imagination Playground Opens its Mind to Downtown in Curbed NY, and David Rockwell, Bloomberg Open Imagination Playground in The Huffington Post.

For background on the Imagination Playground concept visit their faq (frequently asked questions). A couple of other points worth noting – the Rockwell Group’s work is pro bono and a national partnership has been established with KaBOOM! to help implement and develop Imagination Playgrounds across the US. Finally as New York City is an enthusiastic supporter and the Mayor is apparently big on playgrounds, it’s only fair to link to the Mayor’s Office news release for those who may wish to give it a read.

More on Imagination Playgrounds available here






Ka-BOOM! Keeps on Buildin’ and Boomin’ in the Gulf Area

Ka-BOOM! has been working with local communities building badly needed playgrounds in the Gulf area for the past five years. The non-profit issued a news release last week to mark the 5th anniversary of playground reconstruction in the region. To date there doesn’t appear to have been much pick up. It’s a great story of rebuilding that remembers the kids and their need to play. Read the release here.

Playground Threatened by Developers in Laindon, England

Residents are collecting signatures to present to Basildon Council with the hope of saving a playground and sportsfield from redevelopment into a housing estate. Not everyone is happy with the prospect of the land that currently is home to the playground being sold to help pay for a state of the art sports facility at another location.

The petition campaign is being led by 73-year-old Terry Adam and is being reported in The Essex County Echo. Councilors indicate it’s still too early to provide a definitive answer on the playground’s fate. We’ll check in with the Echo and other local media to see how Terry and the save the playground campaign are making out.

Although it doesn’t always work, concerted action can turn the tide in the favour of community members who do not share the same vision as city hall. Witness the Friends of La Laguna who last week placed number one in the cultural landscapes category for the L.A. Conservancy’s Top 60 of the 60s People’s Choice Awards. Had it not been for civic engagement, La Laguna playground would have been bulldozed long ago. Read the PlayGroundology post here.




Photo credits

All photos courtesy of Imagination Playgrounds.

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.

Vote for La Laguna – Monster Park – as a Cultural Landscape

Tomorrow, July 23, is the last chance to cast a vote for La Laguna aka Monster Park, aka Dinosaur Park for the top cultural landscape in the Los Angeles Conservancy’s Top 60 of the 60s People’s Choice voting.

Read more and vote here.

Friends of La Laguna

Monster Mash – Conservation Wins the Day in San Gabriel, California – PlayGroundology post on La Laguna

Playground Odysseys at Home and Abroad

It’s the last day of classes for public schools in Québec. The sun is cracking hot, an open invitation to summer fun. We have all our essential supplies – water and snacks for refueling, sun block and hats to protect us from the pounding rays.

Nellie and Noah are oblivious to the high humidity. It’s so thick and sticky it feels like you should be able to peel it off but there is no such relief. They know there is a playground adventure in the offing and that grand-papa is part of the team. They’re primed, prepped and persistent. “Are we ready yet?” Noah asks as he hops down from the breakfast table.

None too soon for the kids, we’re out the door, buckled into the car and heading off to our first destination, Parc Chalifoux. The original concept for the day was for play time at all 20 plus playgrounds in Sorel-Tracy, Québec – a marathon of fun. It’s an idea I had dreamed up the previous summer and kept alive with Noah and Nellie over the winter months.

Even though it’s all physically possible, it turns out the concept is not ready for prime time. The challenge is proper routing along with a little advanced scouting and precision timing that takes into account, snacks, naps, bathroom breaks and so on. After taking into consideration drive time between the playgrounds, I calculate that we’d have about 10 minutes per stop to let loose on the equipment.

It’s on the eve of the event that I come to terms with my lack of preparation. My loving wife who helps to bring me to my senses wonders if I have totally lost touch with reality. I’m inclined to think that it’s less fiasco and more like a temporary folly zone. While the Marathon of Playgrounds is theoretically doable, it’s not advisable with our key participants just on the cusp of three and five-years-old. Fond memories of an exciting day of playgrounding are not the likely outcome.

We radically alter the day to a 2 1/2 hour morning window with four or five playgrounds that we have not previously visited. In fact, we get to three – Parc Chalifoux, Parc Réal-Lemieux and the Parc-école au Petit Bois. Each visit is a leisurely affair exploring new spaces and equipment.

Two of the playgrounds are adjacent to soccer fields. Noah grabs his soccer ball from the car trunk and spirited games à la World Cup break out. Nellie holds her own against big brother while Raymond and I poke a foot in here and there.

Chalifoux’ miniature giraffe is as at home in the beating sun of the playground corral as she would be on the African veldt. We’ve never seen a giraffe springrider before. Nellie hopes on and has a good go at riding her under the brilliant blue sky with wispy feathers of cloud.

The kids are having a great time and I’m pretty much over my disappointment. The Playground Marathon really only had advanced billing hoopla in my own folly-stricken mind. Over the course of our stay in Sorel we’ve probably visited ten different playgrounds including today’s three. We have favourites like Parc Bibeau and Parc des Trembles. We have other old friends here too like Parc Larivière and Parc Regard-sur-le-Fleuve.

There’s been an influx of new equipment this summer. Some of the old metal stuff has been kept to share the space with the new plastic. It’s heartening to see that older equipment hasn’t been removed in toto. The caterpillar at Parc Bibeau got a new coat of paint and looks great on her perch on top of the hill. The rocking horse swings at Parc Larivière and the spider monkey bars at Parc Soleil were not as lucky. I guess they’ve been transported to that great playground junkyard in the sky.

No brand new stuff at either Chalifoux, Réal Lemieux or Petit Bois but lots of opportunities to discover equipment that they’ve never played on before while doing the swinging, climbing and sliding thing.

Our final stop of the morning is at Petit Bois. It’s a modest little playground positioned right next to the main doors of a primary school. We’re the only ones there as the kids are in class or playing out back as part of their final phys ed class of the year.

It doesn’t take long for us to run through all the equipment here – the mini-arched bridge, the slide, the stepping platforms. The kids are starting to wear down a bit from the heat too.

We hear sounds of play coming from the back of the school and can see some of the kids on a hill that overlooks the recreation space. We head over that way to see what’s happening. Raymond knows the teacher leading the game and we all get introduced.

Noah and Nellie are invited to join the game. Each of them is paired with an older kid to give them a hand. Their smiles break out as they stand up at the plate to kick the ball and round the bases in this hybrid baseball soccer game. It’s a very successful conclusion to our outing – a sporty activity playing with the big kids.

We hit three playgrounds instead of the anticipated (dreamed of) twenty-some that I had dancing around my head like quixotic windmills. We all had a great time and the kids’ endurance has been stretched just enough. Our day is a triumph of quality over quantity. At this age they’re just not ready for the kind of novelty challenge I have in mind.

Never say never however. I’m convinced that a few years from now as the kids are winding up their pre-teen days we could polish this off quite handily. Stay tuned for a post in 2018. That kind of advance should allow me ample time to iron out any planning wrinkles too…

A National Challenge of Marathon Proportions

Meanwhile in Washington, D.C. the playful minds at KaBOOM! have been busy. These folks love to raise awareness about the value of play and the important role of playgrounds within communities. They’ve raised their advocacy to an art form that’s all about doing and getting people engaged.

Their latest national challenge was inspired by one of their Facebook fans. In a nutshell, it’s nine parents and their kids, 50 playgrounds in 50 days – the Park-a-Day KaBOOM! Summer Challenge. The participants come from across the US – Maine, Florida, California, New Jersey and points in between. You can meet the contestants and read all about it here.

PlayGroundology hopes to catch up with some of the contestants as they hit the 40-day mark to get their perspectives on this playground odyssey.

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.

Monster Mash – Conservation Wins the Day in San Gabriel, California

So, you want to go play in a lagoon with monsters? Have I got the place for you. It’s not on the bayou, no endangered mangrove swamps at risk and no flora or fauna about to die off though the playground itself was threatened with extinction in the very recent past.

As for the ‘monsters’, well they’re of the friendliest aquatic variety – whales, dolphins, sea serpents and an octopus are amongst the cast of starring anthropomorphic beauties. They’ve been lapping up adoring caresses from kids for over 45 years.

The idea of historic playgrounds isn’t something that’s discussed much at all. It’s really interesting in the preservation community to try and talk about protecting a resource that’s so heavily used by children and is being climbed all over. You still have to make sure it’s safe and that nobody is coming in harm’s way. By seeking a historic designation for La Laguna, we are trying to find a way for playgrounds that are inherently non-compliant, because they were built before the current standards existed, to be as safe as they can be.

Senya Lubisich, President, Friends of La Laguna (FoLL)

Back in the mid-1960s Frank Carpenter knew how to pick a winner. As San Gabriel, California’s Parks and Recreation Director, Carpenter took the road less traveled by. In doing so, he likely assumed a little professional risk, a risk that continues to bring joy a couple of generations down the road.

On Carpenter’s recommendation, the City of San Gabriel contracted Mexican artist Benjamin Dominguez to create a playscape for the city’s children in a new municipal park. Carpenter was familiar with Dominguez’s work in two other California locations and believed the distinctiveness of a sculptured public play space would become a valuable community asset.

The rest is history. La Laguna, aka Monster Park, aka Dinosaur Park officially opened for play on May 16, 1965. The kids haven’t looked back. Late boomers, gen Xers and gen Ys all had a chance to graze knees and elbows while learning to climb and balance on the creamy, pastel coloured sculptures. The magic of play lives on through today’s kids. Their imaginations animate La Laguna paying tribute to Dominguez’s artistic vision.

I do not have a memory of my childhood without La Laguna. I’ve been going there since I was one, all my life. This place is amazing, it’s an experience that transcends. People just stand in awe. I always try to explain to adults okay you’re 30, or you’re 40, or 50. Now, just imagine for a moment that you are five and you’re here in the middle of all this.

Eloy Zarate, Board Member, FoLL

All was well in this sculptured paradise until the City decided in 2006 that La Laguna had outlived its best before date. Plans were made to replace it with a more modern playground to be built to current safety code specifications. Enter the dynamic husband and wife duo of Eloy Zarate and Senya Lubisich, two local history professors, who made it their mission to rally public opinion, build a team of concerned citizens and lead the charge to save and preserve this playground as a unique cultural landscape.


The Friends of La Laguna (FoLL) was formed in the fall of 2006. In January 2007, the City and FoLL agreed to work together through a Memorandum of Understanding entitled “Assessment and Conservation Proposal for La Laguna de San Gabriel”. This MOU was the cornerstone of ongoing collaboration to ensure the preservation and protection of the existing La Laguna play area for continued use.

We learned that Monster Park was going to be removed so we decided to make some noise. We gathered over 3,000 signatures on a petition. It was really heartening to see how the community responded.

Senya Lubisich, President, FoLL

Senya and Eloy are passionate about their commitment to protecting this living history. Their excitement about the cause is infectious. They are so familiar with the subject matter, so immersed in the strategies to present a winning case that speaking with them is like having a tag team conversation – where one leaves off, the other picks up.

The city was looking at the playground and its viability and thought it would be easier to just demolish it and build something new that was compliant. It never occurred to them that it was anything other than a playground – that it could be art, or that it was unique, or rare in terms of the experience it afforded. So there was a lot of different battles that we had to fight.

Senya Lubisich, President, FoLL

Four years and thousands of volunteer hours later, the Friends of La Laguna (FoLL) have championed their cause with the City of San Gabriel and the State of California. There has been a stay of execution and a renaissance of community spirit.

Both Senya and Eloy see their commitment to La Laguna as part of the broader civic engagement and service that college professors are encouraged to bring to their communities. Eloy’s students now have an internship possibility to work at the park and to help the community do things it doesn’t have the funds, or resources to do itself.

Lots of help has been offered along the way – students who participated in door-to-door awareness campaigns, contractors who have helped unravel the mysteries of safety codes, conservation and preservation professionals who examined historic playgrounds as a new concept, public sector officials who opened doors, sponsors and of course kids who wanted to play.

FoLL succeeded in reversing the demolition plans through a combination of research, community engagement and advocacy. Senya has written an article outlining their approach that will appear in an upcoming issue of Forum, a publication of the National Trust for Historic Preservation. Key elements of the strategy include:

1. Be prepared – do your homework, do your research, understand the subject matter. Leave no stone unturned;

2. Mobilize public opinion and demonstrate that community support can make a difference;

3. Build a strong and duly constituted organization with board members who possess a broad range of skill sets;

4. Define the key challenges and offer solutions. Frame the solutions, not the challenges, as the reference points for discussion and debate;

5. Identify your allies and seek their support, draw on their knowledge and strengths.

The Historic Structures Report and Preservation Plan and Appendices are FoLL’s key research pieces. This is ground zero in the ‘be prepared’ category and they’re really worth a read for anyone interested in playground conservation. The report and appendices cover a lot of territory – historical overview, architectural evaluation, conditions assessment and project objectives along with photos of all Dominguez’s pieces. They are the reference documents for FoLL’s ongoing La Laguna campaign.

When the fight to save La Laguna got out of the starting blocks, it pitted a small non-profit organization going head to head with the local government. Hard work, creativity and community support brought city hall on side.

Once we were able to figure out what their arguments were, we were able to offer solutions. We would hold them accountable so that they had to answer to the solution not to whatever barrier they had thrown out. They can’t sit there and say safety when we’ve provided all these alternate ways to mitigate the safety issue. They have to respond to what we’ve proposed. That keeps the dialogue going and it really holds them accountable to work with their community.

Senya Lubisich, President, FoLL

Safety, safety standards and liability are recurring issues that FoLL continues to address. These issues make legislators and elected representatives nervous. Part of FoLL’s strategy has been to distinguish between safety and liability. FoLL’s assessment and the safety record indicate that the pieces are safe. They were built for children with safety in mind and are not inherent hazards.The fact that they don’t comply to modern standards is what increases liability.

This is the most difficult argument that we’ve had to make and it’s still comes up in every talk that we have. We always have to say that something being unsafe by code doesn’t make it dangerous or hazardous. Then eyes glaze over because people don’t make the distinction between those things. But they are legal distinctions between something being unsafe, being hazardous and being risky. We have to say wait a second – nobody has been hurt here for 40 years.

Eloy Zarate, Board Member, Friends of La Laguna (FoLL)

There are no records of injuries at any of the playgrounds created by Benjamin Dominguez. From FoLL’s perspective, it’s critical to separate out what is a hazard and what is a risk. FoLL is committed to eliminating hazards. There are skills that children have to master to be able to play on some of the equipment and sometimes that requires supervision. In the absence of supervision risk may increase but it is a parental responsibility to be there to help children test and learn their limits. That should be part of every park experience.

FoLL and the citizens of San Gabriel have plenty to smile about these days. In 2009, La Laguna was entered in the California Register of Historic Places – a first for a playground. In early May of this year, FoLL hosted a picnic as part of the L.A. Conservancy’s The Sixties Turn 50 series of events. It was the perfect opportunity to celebrate their $250,000 grant from the California Cultural and Historical Endowment (CCHE). Prospects are also looking good for Bill AB 2701 to be adopted into State law over the coming year. The intent of the bill is to place playgrounds that are designated to be culturally, or historically significant under the jurisdiction of the State Historical Building Code. This would provide for greater flexibility while still addressing safety concerns.

La Laguna was the last playground Benjamin Dominguez created. Through concerted community action it will now be a going concern for years to come. The preservation of this asset has struck a chord across the nation. Other communities are consulting FoLL for direction on saving their own ageing playgrounds. Bravo to FoLL and San Gabriel for leading the way. Hopefully more playscapes will be saved from the wrecking ball.

Saving, and now restoring, La Laguna has become a real family affair for Senya, Eloy and their four children. The project has touched many lives and the family just keeps on getting bigger. Witness the growing Friends of La Laguna Facebook page.

Dinosaur Park is a creative experience without rival for our children. It’s a whole different type of play. You really do feel like you’ve crossed into another world, you’ve sort of left a park and gone into a fantasy lagoon. It’s really evident in the way that they play.

Senya Lubisich, President, FoLL

The Friends of La Laguna are in the midst of a $1.2 million capital campaign for their ongoing restoration and preservation work. Information on donating is available here.

If you can’t get their yourself – I’m looking forward to the day that I can – you can get an idea of what FoLL has been fighting for in this community perspective video.

Photo credits

1. Stella the Starfish and Sammy the Snail Slide, Garavaglia Architecture, Inc.

2. Sea Serpent, Friends of La Laguna

3. Minnie the Whale, Garavaglia Architecture, Inc.

4. Dolphin Family, Friends of La Laguna

5. Lighthouse Dragon Slide, Friends of La Laguna

6. Ozzie the Octupus, Garavaglia Architecture, Inc.

7. Lookout Mountain, circa 1966, photo by Ron Brown, City of San Gabriel Archives

8. Friends of La Laguna Facebook photo album

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 Brief History of Slides

Thanks to Stephen Hawking, a great theoretical physicist and author of A Brief History of Time, for inspiring the title of this post. My knowledge of physics is less than rudimentary but I do know that there are underlying principles at play each time kids launch themselves over the precipice and into the descent. We’re talking about the speed demons, acceleration and velocity getting out of the gate with a little pull from gravity.

Now in more simplified terms that the mathematically disinclined like myself can grab hold of, this is what we’re really saying when we try and quantify the slide experience. It’s pretty much whee to the power of three when screaming down the slide at whoosh factor nine, or in unorthodox mathematical notation
where ‘whee’ is the squeal of unbridled release and ‘whoosh’ is the air flow required to have a full head of hair pluming up from the nape of the neck.

I’ve done some wondering about the antecedents of the slide family. More specifically, I have tried to trace its origins. Not much luck using my standard research tools – Google and interviews with primary sources.

There does not appear to be anything in the ancient visual record that can pinpoint the slide’s birth. There are no paintings on the Lascaux caves, no hieroglyphic whisperings from the Nile delta. I have not come across any evidence-based materials that go back earlier than the beginning of the 20th century. Consequently I have had to rely on broad speculation which I introduce to you the readers as theoretical surmise.

I believe the slide originated in the northern hemisphere, in areas with hilly terrain. Long, cold winters were the norm. Sliding down snowy embankments was great organic entertainment. In North America, this was happening before the Europeans ever arrived on the scene. However, with the introduction of the horse, it’s entirely possible that aboriginal peoples of the northern plains tried to replicate sliding fun in warmer weather. When the family was taking a rest on the trail or setting up camp, it’s plausible that the younger kids would get to zip down a makeshift slide constructed with travois poles.

Before dismissing this musing as completely out of hand, listen to Corn and Potato a wonderful song by singer David Campbell that speaks to a few things that came about via the ‘Indians’. David, an Arawak from Guyana, was world beat in the late 70s and early 80s before the term was coined. He incorporates Caribbean and aboriginal rhythms in his compositions. This was one of the artist’s most requested tunes when he toured schools.

Of course, it may not have happened like this. However, in the absence of empirical evidence to the contrary, I’m sticking with the northern plains Aboriginal Nations as the innovators who brought us what we now know as the slide. If you have other theories, please send them in as comments.

Thanks to the US Patent Office for archival materials dating back to the early 20th century. A few of the illustrations below are from this period. Click here for the photo gallery. There is no indication as to how many of these patents actually went into production. Some are fanciful, some outright funny. All were designed with the intent to elicit squeals of laughter in kids and, after a second look at selected drawings, maybe some mild terror tremors.

Once experienced, whoosh factor 9 is addictive. That’s why we see kids climbing up, zipping down, climbing up the ladders, zipping down again, trying to catch that ephemeral boost. They will even wait in line for minutes on end to slide away in a burst of whoosh.

Size isn’t everything where the thrill of the descent is concerned but it can add a certain cachet. Each of us has our own particular preferences. I’m more a fan of the steep incline than the interminable ride. I want to know is my heart stopping as I look over the precipice anticipating a roller coaster scream?

The Around the World in 18 Slides gallery is a sampling of the ordinary and extraordinary. There isn’t one slide among them that I wouldn’t want to try myself (the dump truck might be a little outré). There is a little bit of everything here including a selection of animal slides – giraffe, elephant, dinosaur… Thanks to all you flickr photogs.

Around the world, 18 photos – a bit of exaggeration on my part. The math just doesn’t add up. I have noted though that Japan seems to have a love affair with slides. Octopus slides and roller slides have captured the popular imagination. Take a look at this Octopus’ Garden and the journey down Japan’s longest slide in western Kyushu.

As it turns out, there is still ample room for scholarly work on the origins of the slide following this minor dalliance with the subject. Will a true historian or anthropologist be able to unravel the mysteries of the slide’s origin, or perhaps confirm the conjecture offered here? Only time and research will tell. In the interim, just keep on slip, slidin’ away…

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Image Credits

1. Sharon K – Teardrop Park Slide, NYC

2. Veronica Gomez Castaneda – Sea Serpent Slide at La Laguna, San Gabriel, California

3. US Patent Office

4. maureenld

5. unknown Japanese photograper