I've just done an interview for a parks and recs magazine in which I noted the fact that standardized 'kit' playgrounds rarely worm themselves into a neighborhood's communal heart the way a playscape that is unique to its site can.
In 1970 Fayetteville held a contest to improve the area around a natural spring. Artist and sculptor Frank Williams presented a scale model for a "fantasy play castle sculpture garden" that would eventually be known simply as "The Castle". Frank called it "Seven Points" and designed seven cement castellations and a rock in the foot bridge with the number "7" in it.
Inspired by Gaudi and thinking that a structure already in 'faux decay' would little show the ravages of time and children, Frank embarked on the project with the support of the Arkansas Arts Council. Incredibly, Williams did most of the ferro-cement and natural stone construction himself, outlasting multiple assistants and extending a three month project to a full year.
Williams' website details the playground's constructions, and the trials associated with it:
"I had plans for landscaping and plantings that had to be scrapped. At least two bronze sculptures I had designed were dropped. And untold options and possibilities were ditched due to the practical concerns of time and money.
I pushed and we hurried but when the money was out helpers had practical choices to make and some had to find other paying jobs...ultimately it was me alone cleaning up and trying to plant a few purchased and donated plants and trees with the donated aide of a local landscaper.
But we did have the opening over that hot weekend."
Perseverance paid off in a place envisioned for both the 'young of age and the young of heart'; thirty years of children playing, teenagers hanging out, tired grown-ups dangling their feet in the water, and countless graduation and wedding photographs taken there by the citizens of Fayetteville. How many playgrounds are special enough that the community wants to mark its special moments there?
At the castle's 25th anniversary celebration, Williams noted that it is a place "where many children forget about television and video games.” Amidst all the hand-wringing about childhood obesity, we need to acknowledge that grown-up playground makers aren't always making spaces that are interesting enough to keep children active. Saying 'kids should play outside!' is the easy part. Making places so engaging that they forget about television and video games is more difficult, but so important.