Category Archives: Washington DC

PLAY WORK BUILD – The Back Story

If you’re in Washington, D.C. between now and November 18, 2014, drop in to the National Building Museum. PLAY WORK BUILD is a new exhibition that explores connections and interrelationships between these three powerful imperatives.

The Rockwell Group’s Barry Richards and the musueum’s Cathy Crane Frankel tell it like this:

In addition to numerous building toys, the hands on Imagination Playground is an integral part of the exhibition.

Click PLAY WORK BUILD for more information.

This would certainly appeal to all those who have mad builder kids in their midst like my young lad Noah-David who dreams in Lego blocks. Parents, maybe you’re fondly remembering your days of building prowess with Tinker Toy, Mecanno and the like. Oh, and did I mention the unbridled fun of Imagination Playground – slideshow here.

logo-Play-Work-Build

Let’s Play, Play, Play in St. Andrews By-The-Sea

It’s always a treat to unexpectedly come across a playground jewel. I love those sweet spot moments when I first see a new playscape that will become the subject of a PlayGroundology post.
Click photos to enlarge

On the rare occasions that I travel for work, the discoveries usually take place before the business day begins. I then have to wait patiently until the following morning, or the end of the work day to return to the site and shoot some photos. This was the case recently in St. Andrews By-The-Sea in southwestern New Brunswick on the Canadian shore of Passamaquoddy Bay.

At the St. Andrews Creative Playground, ten towers march skyward creating vertical sightlines for the many walkways, ramps and bridges that connect and lead to a variety of play areas. In addition to standard climbing, swinging and sliding stations, there are opportunities to test balancing prowess, play a tune on percussive pipes, let your fingers do the walking on an etched maze, or play tic-tac-toe with wooden blocks.

There are wonderful decorative touches throughout the playground including a red-spiked green dragon that wraps around one of the structures, fired tiles and concrete squares with symbols, names and collages embedded in a wall and a do-it-yourself pegboard art station.

In keeping with attention to details, a standard plastic tube swirl slide has two plexiglass windows installed on either side at the launch point. Small ones can look out and wave before they push off and whoosh momentarily through the darkness to the circle of light below. This is a customized design element that I haven’t seen anywhere else.

In 1993, Leathers & Associates from Ithaca, New York led the community in the design and building of this playground. Bob Leathers got his start in the playground world in the early 1970s when he was asked to organize people to build a playground at his children’s school. Since then, he’s been to every US state and seven countries with his brand of kid consultation and community build. Toronto’s High Park playground is another of his Canadian creations.

With an estimated lifespan of 25 years, there is still time for lots of laughter and play at the St. Andrews Creative Playground. If you’re in the neighbourhood of a playground designed by Leathers & Associates, take a moment and let your kids explore, run and play. They’ll love you for it.
Click on photo above for flickr slideshow.

NoteTomorrow, KaBOOM! will celebrate its 2,000th build in Washington, D.C. with a little help from First Lady Michelle Obama. Bravo for bringing communities, kids and playgrounds together and a big hats off to the KaBOOM! team for their social enterpreneur prowess

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.

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