Playability: A Competitive Advantage for Communities
Great playgrounds are at the heart of a community. They are a place where children of all ages can meet, get fresh air, challenge their physical abilities and stretch the limits of their imagination. In 1906, the Playground Association of America formed to promote the idea of playgrounds to communities. Back then, contemporary literature dictated that an ideal playground would have separate play sections and athletic fields for boys and girls; would be supervised; and would feature shelters and toilet/bathing facilities, shaded spaces, garden plots, and swimming or wading pools. How times have changed! Today’s playgrounds have come a long way from the early days of burning hot steel slides and splintery wooden teeter-totters. Of course, safety is a big issue, but also is imagination, accessibility, sustainability and ingenuity. Let’s take a look at 10 of the coolest playgrounds popping up all around the world.
Helen Diller Playground
Dolores Park, San Francisco, California
San Francisco’s Helen Diller Playground at Dolores Park, pictured above, is a spectacular new addition to one of the City’s most prestigious public parks. With verdant green hills and world class views, Dolores Park is a gathering place for live music, soccer matches, and all kinds of cultural events. The playground, which opened in April 2012, was designed by Koch Landscape Architecture and boasts an imaginative and eclectic mix of play events: a central mound with an accessible suspension bridge, long slides built into the hillsides, boulders, shipwrecked boats, and a variety of custom net climbers, designed and manufactured by CADdetails’ very own Landscape Structures.
The inclusive playground was made possible by the generous donation of more than $1.5 million from the Mercer Fund in honor of San Francisco Bay Area philanthropist Helen Diller, together with funding from the San Francisco 2008 Clean and Safe Neighborhood Parks Bond and the San Francisco’s General Fund.
Helen Diller Playground is typical of a new wave of playground design that is trending towards unstructured, independent climbers and other play components that encourage more self-directed play. These “hybrid” designs often are more inclusive (children enter and exit most play events at ground level), offer safer circulation patterns, and inspire greater opportunities for creative and social play.
Nishi Rokugo Park (Tire Park)
With a location right near Japan's Kawasaki plants, is it any wonder someone decided to build a playground from unwanted tires? Pictured above, Nishi Rokugo Park (which literally means ‘Tire Park’ in Japanese) features massive dinosaurs, monsters, bridges, slides, and swings - all made from approximately 3,000 up cycled vehicle tires. Plus, there are lots of loose tires that kids and parents can use to stack, roll, jump on and climb inside. The best part about this massive adventure playground is that it’s not just for kids: while the little ones frolic about, parents can enjoy the shaded areas and beautiful flower beds, or, better yet, grab a tire and tube down a specially designed concrete slide!
Inspired by health and fitness parks in Beijing, China, Berlin’s Pruessen Park may be the only playground in the world created specifically for seniors. In fact, anyone under 16 is not allowed inside the park, appropriately nicknamed the "Playground for Grown-Ups." The equipment - eight graffiti-resistant machines made of robust stainless steel laid out on a layer of soft bark under a canopy of trees - looks as if someone has taken a gym and placed it in the middle of a forest. The park is specifically designed for people over five feet tall and caters to Germany's fastest growing age demographic: seniors. By 2050 one third of Germany’s population will be over 60.
Ghost Train Park
The Spanish artist group Basurama literally had a green ‘train of thought’ when they converted an abandoned project to build an electric train in Lima, Peru into the colorful ‘green’ playground for kids and adults alike, pictured above. Ever since the train ruins were abandoned in 1986, the construction has been left as-is, and the 20 foot high concrete columns have stood without purpose until 2010, when Ghost Train Park, alluding to the train that never arrived, opened to the public, free of charge. Located in the center of the city's busy urban environment, horse shaped car tire swings, climbing structures, canopy lines, and swings that hang from the forgotten pass ways are now heartily enjoyed by local park goers.
Fairfax County, Virginia
Not just the name is unusual at Clemyjontri Park in Fairfax County, Virginia. This place is one of the first large scale parks in the world specifically planned and built so children with disabilities can play side-by-side with those without. The entire park is equipped with ramps for wheelchairs and the ground surfaces are specially designed with a non-slip material.
The park was built when local resident Adele Lebowitz donated her land to the county, with the vision that it would become a fully accessible playground where every child, regardless of ability, could play with one another. Clemyjontri is named for her four children: Carolyn (CL), Emily (EMY), John (Jon), and Petrina (Tri).
Built in 2006, use of this community treasure has exceeded all expectations, with nearly 200,000 children and adults visiting Clemyjontri each year. So, in 2014 more than $1 million was spent on renovations to repair and renew Clemyjontri Park’s worn-out surfacing.
As these ten examples highlight, today’s playgrounds are so much more than just a place for kids to play. Today’s great play spaces are hubs of activity, inspiration, and discovery, using the concept of playability to connect people of all ages and abilities to each other, and to the places they live and work.