Then & Now: The Evolution of Play
According to the not-for-profit advocacy group, The Alliance for Childhood, today’s children get 50 percent less unstructured outdoor play time than kids of the 1970s. The childhood obesity epidemic is just one negative outcome of this startling new reality. Unstructured outdoor play initiated and directed by children is a vital ingredient in raising happy, healthy kids, enhancing their cognitive, physical, social, spiritual and emotional development & well-being, while strengthening their sense of connection to the larger community. Howard Chudacoff, author of Children at Play: An American History (2007) explains: “Beginning around 1960 or a little before, adults began chipping away at outdoor unstructured play by increasing the time that children had to spend at school work and, even more significantly, by reducing children’s freedom to play on their own, even when they were out of school and not doing homework. Adult-directed sports for children began to replace ‘pick up’ games; adult-directed classes out of school began to replace hobbies; and parents’ fears led them, ever more, to forbid children from going out to play with other kids, away from home, unsupervised.”
Fono Solar-Powered DJ Booths
Forward-thinking Dutch design company Yalp InterActive has made it their mission to motivate and inspire the next generation of kids, creating interactive playgrounds that combine some of the positive aspects of computer games with the fun and physical activity of outdoor play. In 2014, Yalp introduced the next phase of outdoor music performance with the Fono, the world’s first eco-friendly, outdoor DJ booth. Fono is a new kind of playground, specially developed for teens, that challenges youth to express themselves in a creative way with their own music. Essentially a solar powered turn-table, all electronics are encased in a sleek concrete form, making them resistant to both harsh weather conditions and vandalism attempts. Fono does not require prior DJ skills, and allows passers-by to play music from any portable music device. With 14 touch-pad surfaces which control everything from pitch to delay to filter and even scratch, the Fono amplifies the sound of the device with a patented technology, and produces its own green energy, by use of solar panels on the roof, allowing the Fono set to be played even at night. Better yet, the Fono can also be extended to be a complete hangout spot, with a dance floor that includes a vertical “flipwall”, and skater-friendly urban benches, specially designed so teens can sit on the back with their feet on the seat. The Fono was recently awarded the highly esteemed Red Dot design award. The Red Dot is the largest international design prize in the world and is known as ´the Oscar of design’. An expert jury awarded this international prize for Fono’s exceptional functional design and robust, modern appearance. The design was chosen amongst 4,815 entries from 53 countries. The product has already been installed in the Netherlands, Finland, Denmark, Sweden, China and Australia. Want one? Watch the Fono demonstration video here.
Container Park, Las Vegas
Downtown Container Park is an open-air shopping center and entertainment venue featuring 39 shops, restaurants, and bars, located in downtown Las Vegas, on Fremont Street. The park was built from 43 re-purposed shipping containers and 41 locally manufactured ‘Xtreme cubes’. Located within Downtown Container Park is The Treehouse, pictured at right, a one-of-a-kind interactive play area for children and adults alike. Special features of the Treehouse include a 33′ foot tall slide, oversized foam building blocks, NEOS 360 play system, and much more. Naturally, the play exhibit, which is located in the center of the park, incorporates shipping containers as well. The concept is Swiss Family Robinson treehouse meets urban art. Kids (and adults) can climb to the top of a 40’ high container that stands end-on-end and lean against a 30 degree look-out window for a bird’s eye view of the entire park. Energy-saving sensors in the tube slide are triggered to activate cosmic, starship, hyper-drive and fish tank visual displays as well as a sonic boom and blast of air. The wonky bridge leads to the ‘living tree,’ which features a concrete trunk with real live vegetation at the top. Other elements include the wind spinner art exhibit and an interactive treasure hunt that will send kids and adults on an adventure. In addition, the NEOS 360, designed by CADdetails’ own Playworld Systems is an interactive, heart pounding game where you have to beat the clock (and each other) and press as many lit up buttons as you can. NEOS combines the speed and fun of electronic games with the explosive movement of aerobic exercise. According to the manufacturer, playing NEOS delivers a workout comparable to jogging or playing soccer, raising heart rates by an average of 20%.
Portland, Oregon's first permanent nature-based play area is now open at Westmoreland Park in Southeast Portland. In this unique natural play space, kids can climb on logs and boulders, play in sand and water, build with branches, sticks, pine cones and other natural materials, and otherwise enjoy unstructured outdoor play, away from apps and TV screens. The new play area is a pilot project for the parks bureau's Nature-Based Play Initiative, which aims to connect children with nature and promote environmental appreciation. Westmoreland Park's play area includes a concrete stream channel with water pumps where children can manipulate the water's flow; logs tilted at varying inclines for children to climb on; stone markers along the stream engraved with the story of Crystal Springs; a grove of giant sequoia trees; a grassy picnic area and benches and low fencing to help keep younger children within the boundaries of the play area. Crystal Springs Creek was recently restored to its natural flow through Westmoreland Park through a U.S. Army Corps of Engineers project. The park's outdated playground had to be moved, and the bureau took the opportunity to replace it with a nature-based play area.
Today’s playgrounds must compete with digital technology for kid’s time and energy. They must offer something at least as engaging and amazing as anything virtual - whether by replicating the natural environment we once took for granted, by featuring contemporary architectural design or by simply offering more buttons to push.