On March 16th, Atlanta's Park Pride held its annual Parks and Greenspace Conference. One of the seminars I attended was "Play it Forward - the Past, Present and Future of Playspaces in American Cities". The presenters were Cynthia Gentry of the Atlanta Taskforce on Play and Ryan Jenkins of Tunnell-Spangler-Walsh and Associates.
Cynthia discussed the history of playspaces and playspace design in the US over the past 60 years. She examined the past trends toward art-inspired, architect-designed, one-of-a-kind playscapes that she is working to bring back, and the impact that play can have on a community and its children.
Some of the photos in her PowerPoint were stunning examples of 50's & 60's modern art incorporated into play structures. Other photos of current playgrounds included the Luxemburg Gardens in Paris and Lady Diana Memorial Playground in London. The playgrounds at these parks includes zip lines and a pirate ship structure complete with mast and rigging!
Cynthia used these examples to support her ideas that playground design should capture the "Genius Loci" or "Spirit of the Place". One important goal of playground design is to create a memory, something to talk about and tell your friends about.
Simple elements like sand and water capture a child's attention and encourage creativity. Creative play structures should be interactive and include open ended pieces, for example hide outs that seem magical to kids where they feel they are in their own special little place. Cynthia ended her presentation with the release of "The State of Play in the City of Atlanta" report. More information can be found at: www.PlayAtlanta.org
Ryan Jenkins is the Director of Landscape Architecture at Tunnell-Spangler-Walsh and Associates. Ryan's presentation focused on revitalizing old, existing playgrounds and the development of new playscape environments. His ideas included creating components or loose parts that kids can use to build things. He also discussed the importance of using the natural environment to create a unique play experience, i.e. sand, water, boulders, etc. Ryan talked about how kids will typically play on the swings, climbers and slides in a playground for an average of 30 minutes, but then will wander off to explore the natural environment. This is a good opportunity to use the natural environment to educate kids about environmental issues as well.
Ryan and Cynthia are working on a Playscape Design Guidelines manual that will soon be available to parks and recreation departments. In addition to the guidelines being available for Parks and Rec. Depts., a key component is that the guidelines will also be available for community and neighborhood groups. They will be written for the masses as a tool for promoting good playground design. The manual will encourage people to work beyond buget constraints and "this is the way we do it" patterns to see what is possible and be inspired to create a whole new era of beautiful and creative playspaces.