Monday, March 28, 2011

Put Swings back on the Playgrounds of Detroit

There will be lots more to say about the 'why playgrounds aren't better' question (there's no time limit on your responses), but I think at least one piece of the answer is that the funding mechanisms currently available presume a certain type of that is heavily dependent on stock manufactured components.

One counter to that is bypassing traditional funding sources by going directly to donors, and in this arena kickstarter has not only stepped out of the box, but broken it to pieces. Their brilliant approach is to use what is essentially a renaissance-style patronage model, only now anybody, not just kings and queens, can be a patron! So I was pleased to find this project by a group that calls itself the 'Detroit Mower Gang' and wants to put swings back on the empty swing frames of Detroit:

I know I've got lots of readers, but let's try an experiment to see how much of a playground community we are!
If you back the swings for Detroit (and you can do so for as little as a dollar) after seeing this, leave a comment on the kickstarter project after backing that you heard about it on playscapes. Or if you don't feel comfortable doing that, leave it here in my comments.

Please note that although the Detroit swing project had a modest goal (just $800, probably to make sure they met it), the founder says that to replace all the swings will be closer to $7000. Since this is a group of people already mowing the parks of Detroit with their own lawnmowers, I have no doubt they'll make good use of the funds.

Let's be a playscapes community!


Friday, March 25, 2011

Friday Forum - What are the barriers to more imaginative playground design?

Thanks to everyone who has used the forum so far to ask a question, leave an answer, or post a playground!

Don't think that you have to be an organization to list yourself as a 'playground person'...if you read the blog then you're a playground person.  One of the things that has happened as the blog has grown is that people get in touch with me asking about play organizations, or sites or providers, or just other interested people, in their geographic area.  Sometimes I can help, but not always.  The forum is word searchable, so if you add yourself as a playground person, say as 'Elmo, interested in urban playspaces, New York City', then anyone else seeking kindred playground spirits in New York City, or urban play, can connect. 

When you write a blog for three years, the question that naturally arises is 'Whew, how long am I going to do this?'  I've no idea WHEN I'll stop (not anytime soon), but I do know WHY I want to stop...because innovative playgrounds have become so normal that there is no longer a need for a blog that highlights them.

Towards that goal, I hope the forum will be a place we can talk about how to get there.  So on Fridays, I'll pose a question for discussion that I hope you'll help me answer.    Why AREN'T imaginative playgrounds the norm?  What are the barriers to better play spaces?  See you in the forum. 

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Things-I-wish-I-saw-on-the-playground: fields of balloons

One of the favorite types of posts that I do is the now has it's own category in the side bar.  I was incredibly pleased when a reader got in touch earlier this year to say she was adding funnels to her playscape based on this previous things-I-wish-I-saw post of a 'funnelscape' for rainwater in Dresden.  So to add to the inspiration, here is the 'Museum of Possibilities', a temporary installation by livingwithourtime to collect thoughts on the potential use of a public space in Montreal.

[photo by varial, found at bobulate]

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Oppenheimer Park, Vancouver Canada, space2place, 2010

Playscapes friend Jeff Cutler has opened a new playground in Vancouver, Canada with many of the same wonderful features as in his previously blogged Garden City playground...well done (again) space2place!

"Located in Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside, Oppenheimer Park has a storied past and has served numerous roles in the community throughout its history. This park has always been a place of personal and cultural expression - a place where marginalized communities looking to express their culture have found common ground to share with friends and neighbours.

In recent years, the facilities in Oppenheimer Park had fallen into disrepair, which was contributing to the social challenges of the park and surrounding neighbourhood. The challenge for the park redesign was to create a place that reflects the history, social significance, and recreation needs that are relevant to this underserved community."

The playground is set amongst a grove of existing cherry trees providing well defined space and shade in the summer.  The design is focused on providing creative play opportunities, avoiding obvious themes, which allow the children to make the space their own.  Included in the design is a water pump, weir and water channel that ties the entire play area together.  The design also features a double swing set, climbing poles and a "wyldwood" climbing structure.  The playground is entirely accessible to children of all abilities."

One of the things I really appreciate about space2place's work is their thoughtful use of rugged planting materials to enhance the playscape.  Nothing fussy here, just a good selection of dramatic plants that would appeal to any child.  I'm baffled as to why more commercial playground providers don't just plant some would add so much to even the most banal installation, and it's not a difficult (or unsafe!) thing to do.  

In these current photos of the Garden City playground, with the plants now well grown-in, you can see how much they enhance the space (notice how the red leaves echo the red poles!)...

P.S. I'll be in Vancouver in a couple of weeks myself.  If you're interested in having a playground chat and seeing Jeff's work, let me know!  

Monday, March 21, 2011

And the winners are...

The winners of the Aldo van Eyck book giveaway are Cheryl (in the comments) and veronicaskk (in the forum), as selected by the random number generator at!  You two send me an email with your postal address and I'll get your books right out.  Let me know if you'd like me to inscribe them to you.

And even if you didn't win, thanks so much for the many comments.  Knowing something of who you are--guerilla knitters, Azerbaijani expats and all--makes a surprising difference to me as I write the blog.  And my motivation is just that it matters, so thanks for letting me know!  

Lots more to's going to be a great fourth year!

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Happy Birthday Aldo! Happy Birthday Blog!

"Whatever space and time mean, place and occasion mean more."  ~Aldo van Eyck

So today, March 16, Aldo van Eyck would be 93 years old.  And this blog is 3 years old, started (serendipitously, because I didn't know it then) just a couple of days after, on March 18.   I thought at the beginning that maybe I would post for about three months and stop, because that was all the material I had, all that I had been able to find deep in google search pages about playgrounds that were different and interesting; interesting enough to keep track of and think that someone else might want to see them too. 

But happily I'm still writing--often, as right now, late at night, after work, still in the lab, watching the ion beam and thinking about playgrounds.  Which is what it takes to keep a one-person volunteer blog going when it has grown way beyond any reasonable expectation.   When I started the blog, it was months before I had a single reader, and even after a year I was only running maybe a hundred people a day.  There has been no big moment--I never got picked up by notcot or swissmiss or heralded on huffpo--just a gradual gathering of people who care about play, and who know we need to do better by it, and who feel, often intuitively without knowing exactly why or how, that play is better when the space for play is better, and who somehow find their way here, because that's exactly how I felt when I started the blog though now I think I know a little more of the why and the how.

But for a blog with this many readers, I don't get so many comments (big shout out to the exception to that rule, my faithful commenter Michelle!) and I do occasionally endure the unkind email from someone who doesn't like playscapes, or feels threatened by what I do, or has sent me something that I haven't gotten to post or respond to yet.  Such is the internet.  SO, if playscapes has helped or inspired you in any way from these last three years, I would love to hear about it.  Especially if you did something different, or advocated for a better playground space, because of what you saw here.  Seriously.  It would warm the cockles of my heart.  

To help you to overcome your natural shyness, dear readers, I have two of the fabulous books about Aldo van Eyck's playgrounds as inducement.  Yes, that expensive one under the reading list in the sidebar.  One will be awarded, at random, to someone who leaves a comment attached to this post.  The other will be given, at random, to someone who posts in the new PLAYSCAPES FORUM...a venue for those who make space for play!   (Get to it by clicking on the 'playscapes forum' at the top of the blog page.)

I've wanted for a long time to bring you all together as a community, and am so excited to launch the forum, and really hopeful that it will be a place of active discussion and engagement.  To be eligible for the book, you can comment in one of the sub-forums or topics I've created or simply leave a greeting or suggestion about the forum (yes, suggestions please!)  in reply to my 'welcome' message.   If you have a play area that was inspired or helped by something you saw here, please add it to the 'post your playscape' section (the whole forum supports photos and video) and I'll do a mashup of the submissions!

With your indulgence, I'll be reflecting all this birthday week on some things I've learned since starting the blog, on where I think playground development is at and where it's going, and on what I'm hopeful for.

'Til then, see you in the forum.  Happy Birthday Aldo!  Happy Birthday Blog!

P.S. As I note in the forum I have to do my own tech support and I'm rubbish at it so if anything goes wrong with the launch please be patient!

P.S.S. To be eligible for the book giveaway, make your posts by the end of this week (Saturday, March 19, MY midnight, which is US CST).  And yes you can post BOTH in the comments and the forums, if you'd like, to give yourself two chances.

Monday, March 14, 2011

Olle Eksell and Egon Moller-Nielsen on the Playground, Stockholm, Sweden

I've featured Egon Möller-Nielsen's trippy playground constructions on the blog before so my spine tingled when I saw this drawing by Swedish illustrator Olle Eksell which shows the egg in its midcentury setting at Tessin Park in Stockholm!  I don't know the name of this drawing or where it appeared...I found it on a website that now appears to be defunct.  If you have any information do please let me know. There is a new book on Olle Eksell (Olle Eksell: Swedish Graphic Designer ) being released in April...perhaps I'll find the answer there.

[photo by la-citta-vita via flickr]

And that's how you do a playground hill...more work from Erect Architecture

Other projects by Erect Architecture show some of the best use of topography I've seen anywhere...they recognize the hill as a geometric construct rather than just a pile of dirt; one that creates interesting spaces above, below, and beside, all with potential for play, as well as for loosely defined hang-out spaces loved by teens and tweens.   If you're installing a playground hill, ask yourself what interesting things you could do above, below, and beside it.  Also, note that the hills are steep enough to feel risky, which is vital!  The photos here are from Erect's Evelyn Hill  Park installation in Hackney London, but peruse their website for other inspirational playground topographies.

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Kilburne Grange Adventure Playground, Erect Architecture, Camden London, 2010

Given the enviable site of an old Victorian arboretum, it was natural that the story of this playscape be about trees...

"It is a dense structure, which plays with character of trees...sets up a relationship with adjacent  school building and vantage points (into park). There are light and open, small and cosy, fast and slow spaces of different timber materialities."

Throughout the project, erectarchitecture ran workshops exploring the idea of  'what is adventure?'  " During the first session the children where asked to state their idea of adventure on signs, which were permanently fixed in on site in the park, announcing the project to the wider community. Free-running workshops with Parkour Generations explored ‘Movement as Adventure’ and controlled risk taking. ‘Nature as Adventure’ introduced the children to playing with nature and natural materials but also to making spatial propositions. ‘Design as Adventure’ taught the children about structural principles, which they tested on simple large scale models afterwards making propositions for playground structures."

I think this design is particularly brilliant at incorporating the sense of risk, and encouraging risk-taking (love that canted log rope-walk), within a 'safe' structure.  Notice also the use of doors as a motif (who doesn't want to open a door into a secret land!)  and in the best tradition of repurposed materials on the adventure playground.

Thursday, March 3, 2011

The Red Swing Project

An addition to last week's focus on swings is the lyrical "Red Swing Project", which started as an urban intervention in Austin, Texas in 2007.  The Red Swing Project anonymously hangs red swings in public places worldwide--infusing playfulness into the urban environment--mindful that "one swing can turn a vacant lot into a park". 

Red Swings have been installed in locations from India to Portugal:  the simple red swing remains the constant while the environmental backdrops and cultural contexts change from place to place.

The Red Swing Project offers full DIY help with a ‘how-to‘ instructional video and manual, and even a handy fold-up knot menu to take with you when you install your swing. 

One of the things I really want to focus on this year on the blog is empowering individuals to make playable space around them, without relying on big companies or even big charities to do for many more projects like this.

Red Swing Project Documentary from erin harris on Vimeo.

Go ahead and hang a red swing!