Dennis the Menace and Burning Man

Over the past few weeks I’ve been reading more and more about playgrounds for adults. This is a phenomenon that started out in Asia a few years ago. Since then, it has taken root in Europe and is now becoming au courant in North America.

Reports in The New York Times seem to be building up interest across the USA. In this vein, ‘adult playground’ is primarily about pumping up the fitness factor and providing outdoor exercise stations.

Halifax, Canada – PlayGroundology’s home – is perhaps a little ahead of the curve in relation to other North American cities. That’s one of the side benefits of an outdoor equipment manufacturer setting up shop here in Nova Scotia. Green Gym installations are popping up all over our city.

This is all well and fine. I mean it’s hard to argue the value of helping to realign the ABSI, usurper of the Body Mass Index that has served as an indicator of healthiness or lack thereof in recent years.

Now there’s no doubt that the majority of us adults in North America could use a tune-up, or an outright makeover. I know that in terms of the rotundity factor, I’ve got too much going on for my own good. In Canada, ParticipACTION has got a lot to offer on the matter of physical activity.

But what about the fun, thrill, adrenalin quotients? Exercise is great but even us adults should have access to a broader canvas. This is where I introduce exhibits ‘A’ and ‘B’, Dennis the Menace and Burning Man respectively.

Dennis was Hank Ketchum’s inspiration to build Monterey, California’s Dennis the Menace Playground back in the 1950s. I’ve written about this playground like no other previously in PlayGroundology.

Its custom designed equipment created many a hair raising experience for kids and parents. The present day Dennis playground is a pale shadow of the original and many who experienced its glory days as kids lament its passing. And who can blame them when there was excitement like the helicopter spinny thing of death which closes out the video segment below.

So yes, there should be a bit of an edge à la Dennis for adult playgrounds and where better to seek inspiration in modern times than Burning Man. This is where you can find adult playgrounds with a twist as the photos and video that follow attest.

Klimax by Michael Christian – Burning Man, 2003. Source

Temple of Gravity – Burning Man, 2003. Source

The Darwin Dome – Burning Man, 2009. Photo credit – Scott Haefner

Industrial See-Saw – Burning Man. Source

Now imagine that instead of a coffee and danish at break you were able to limber up on this customized Burning Man special.

Somewhere on the Dennis the Menace – Burning Man continuum there is a place that speaks to fitness and fun, risk and reward. It’s good to see that big kids can benefit from a little undirected play too.

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The Tides Turn

Halifax’s waterfront sculpture ‘The Wave’ is now firmly in the play zone. After more than 20 years of trying to keep kids and adults from scaling the sculpture and sliding back down, the authorities have apparently given in. The change in heart sets ‘The Wave’ free for the summer’s biggest blowout on the harbour’s boardwalks – Tall Ships 2012.

The chiseled in stone statement at the base of the sculpture no longer applies. It is pretty much a free for all. There is also a newly installed rubberized ground cover. This will help break the falls that will inevitably happen. Anything flies now.

Kids are having great fun. Parents are a little skittish. I know the feeling, our four and six-year-old have perched on top and then skittled on down to ground level.

The National Post’s Joe O’Connor did a nice piece on ‘The Wave’ back in May. Take a read.

Thanks to Donna Hiebert for creating this iconic piece of public art that Haligonians and visitors, kids and adults love to play on. Thanks too to the authorities who have moved on from their former killjoy role.

Ole Smiley – Any Vintage Playground Equipment Where You Live?

I’ve passed Ole Smiley for a few years trekking back and forth from Halifax to Kejimkujik National Park. His face is pocked with rust. The smile is rueful now, the paint weathered to a razor thin veneer. For decades his strong arms have been holding up the swings that rocked the Village of Harmony’s kids under sweltering suns and constellation splashed skies.

Winds gust through those tall, skinny legs unchecked, tangling the two bucket seats. No matter how shrill their whistling shrieks, they are unable to shift the stick man stance. Seemingly invincible, Ole Smiley’s enduring presence will end and kids today will be the poorer for it as diverse designs and equipment bite the dust.

I wonder if there will be feelings of nostalgia associated with commercial equipment installed within the last 5 to 20 years when it is 30, 40 years old. Will the newer equipment even be able to withstand decade upon decade of use?

Do you have any playground equipment, sculptures, paraphernalia dating back to the 1960s or earlier? Send photos and stories if you have them.

Halifax, Nova Scotia seems committed to a path of playground homogeneity. There are a few bright exceptions which present some hope that authorities are receptive to change. The old stock is pretty much gone with a straggler hanging on here and there like this marvelous monkey head slide-climber combo.

In an area the size of a postage stamp close to the downtown core, Montreal’s David Lefebvre Park is a treasure trove. No doubt there is somebody in the community to be congratulated for preserving a stallion, a gliding horse and a spider.

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Closer to my Halifax home, in Windsor, Nova Scotia, I found the starship of my childhood angled for take-off. Back in the day when men first started orbiting the earth, a rocket like this one was our dream station imagining us Toronto kids into deep space adventures.

Brenda Biondo has been capturing vintage play equipment on film for years and has published a book of her photos. Flickr’s scottamus has compiled an impressive collection of old spring riders, swings, roundabouts and more from a variety of locations in Ohio. Then there are communities like San Gabriel, California who just go and rewrite the rule book on the way to preserving a playground as a cultural landscape.

Nostalgia is certainly part of the equation with some of this old equipment, memories of play that predate the constant stream of screen content. There’s more here though than tugs on the heart strings. There are aesthetics, cultural reference points, workmanship – a different ethos, horizon for play. It’s still around, a bit diluted. Remember what it was about the old equipment that you loved and check to see if the characteristics are present where your kids play today. If not, shouldn’t we be wondering why?

Canada Plays – an occasional series

Wayne County Parks – Mud Day

Now here’s an event I’d like to get the behind the scenes dirt on. Next Tuesday, July 10, Wayne County Parks in Michigan celebrates 25 years of Mud Day. We all know that mud has undetectable magnetic qualities that draws kids with an irresistible force. It’s elemental like water, earth, air and fire.

Kids from miles around will be getting pulled into the soupy mud vortex at Nankin Mills Recreation Center in Hines Park, Westland next week. Click through here, or on the image below for a slideshow published by The Denver Post following last year’s event.

Mud Day is gloriously dedicated to getting down and dirty. I’m thinking of starting a family bucket list and making this event the first entry. We won’t be able to make it to this year’s day of muddiness as it’s a 3200 kilometre return trip. We need some more prep time…

If you’re a little closer to the action, see the details below.

If you need further enticement watch this report from Detroit’s WXYZ TV.

Mud, mud and more mud…

Tim Gill is a well known voice in the world of play. I only came across him in the last 6 months or so and he’s been very helpful to me on a couple of occasions providing insights and suggestions you can only acquire after years of immersion in a subject. Yes, it seems that Tim is immersed in play. What a fine place to be. I’m reblogging this particular post because of the all important fun element. Thanks Tim, thanks New South Wales lads.

Rethinking Childhood

I hereby invite you to stop whatever it is that you’re doing, and enjoy 2’46” of pure, unadulterated fun. Here is a video of a group of teenage boys making the most of a forest lakeside spot in New South Wales.

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Flickr Swings

This is a companion post to The Unbearable Lightness of Swinging. Click through here to a curated flickr gallery of 18 swing photos from around the world including an Independence Day themed shot for our American readers.

Kejimkujik National Park, Nova Scotia – Canada Day, July 1, 2012

Do you have a favourite photo of swings? Post it on PlayGroundology’s Facebook page.