Monday, February 29, 2016

Path as Play: Barnetraak, TYIN Tegnestue and Rintala Eggertsson, Gran Norway, 2013

I’ve always found it strange that our primary model for play in American is the creation of centralized sites to which children are driven in cars.   This is particularly true in suburban and rural areas, such as those where the Barnetraak modules were installed.  Centralized playgrounds can make play and the physical exertion associated with it a singular event; a destination, something done on special occasions once-in-a-while.  And we should have playgrounds like that.  But affecting a child’s physical and mental health through the medium of play requires a more constant presence.

Playable features installed at a variety of scales from small (hoppable patterns in the sidewalk) to medium (retaining walls that allow, rather than forbid, balancing along their tops) to large (playable bus stops and huts like Barnetraak) give the child a playable route through their individual landscape.  They welcome the child into the built environment, facilitating healthy physical interactions many times a day instead of once on a weekend.  In their best forms, they also draw children and adults into more frequent community interactions than do destination playgrounds, and the spaces are naturally supervised because of foot traffic along existing paths.  The clustered huts of the Barnetraak project would be something completely different–something less–if they were clustered in an isolated traditional playground space, rather than along the road.

I recently had a conversation with some nice folks at ARUP, the builder of cities.  We discussed the siting of playgrounds and how placing them along paths as integral elements of the wider planning scheme instead of at the end of paths as some sort of destination alleviates many vexing playground concerns.  If in your design process you are debating whether or not your playground needs a fence, or can be properly supervised, you have most likely sited it badly.  Start over, and put it on a path!  Better yet, consider whether the elements you were going to put in your playground-as-destination would be more effective reorganized along a traffic route to become a playground-as-path.
[images via ArchDaily]


Friday, February 19, 2016

Creating Inclusive Playgrounds for All Ages and Abilities

The Problem

A senior who uses a wheelchair, asked me if I knew of any inclusive playgrounds   in NYC. I asked her to define inclusive. She said a playground  that had activities for someone like her who used a wheelchair,  rather then a place where she could just sit and look.   I could only think of 2 parks in NYC  that would offer her any activities, both  were quite a distance from where she lived. Yes she could go to them , but given the inconvenience of getting to them I doubt she would.

On Further thinking I came up with  a lot of closer "playgrounds" that might  have activities to meet her needs
-the libraries in her neighborhood
-the senior centers in her neighborhood
-the college in her neighborhood that offer senior scholar programs.
-going to a church or synagogue in her neighborhood
-Attending community board meetings
-visiting with friends 

So there are a larger number of locations  offering  "playgrounds" for people with disabilities .in her neighborhood,  only they  are  not  NYC parks.

People with disabilities are not the only group who do not feel parks are offering them activities of interest...

 Overall this is a great facility I just wish the community would use it for more activities other than the one concert in the park they have every summer because that's pretty much the only reason why I've ever gone herelink

"The natural environment of a park is not enough to attract some elderly users,"   link

 Contemporary American playgrounds don’t hold or inspire older kids...More and more, preteens avoid the playground altogether, choosing instead to spend time indoors, most likely sitting in front of some kind of screen...What teen will go to the playground to play a game when he has better graphics at home on his computer or anywhere on his cell phone? The Science of Play

The Solution

"You must create an environment that is conducive to use ..." link

You go to various "stores" in your neighborhood to buy goods and services

the pizza store for pizza
the dry cleaner for dry cleaning
the art supply store for paint
the drug store for drug
sthe doctor for health exams
 the library for books (you are "buying" books there , it's just that the cost is zero)

What our neighborhood parks are "selling" is the use of some active recreation equipment for young kids and a place to sit outdoors for adults.

If you're an adult and  don't want to "buy" a place to sit outdoors then you will not use a park.

What features or activities  would a park need to" sell " so  that you would want to "buy" from  it on a regular basis?

If a "park" offers enough features/activities   that you wish to "spend your time" on doing in it , then it  is an inclusive park for you, if not it isn't. Doesn't matter if 1 or  10,000 other people find activities  at that park that  they "buy" there,, if it doesn't sell what you want , it fails your  inclusion test.

An INCLUSIVE park should include some activities  of interest to everyone no matter what their age or abilities , and the fixed equipment only model of building inclusive playgrounds , is hard pressed to do  that. There is another model of park design that can do this., I call it a Loose Park and its created by adding a  play library of inclusive recreation equipment  to a park.    Inclusive Play Libraries are discussed here at  The Theory of Loose Parks.

Tuesday, February 16, 2016

PLayful Design- Playful Interactions in Public Spaces

Evoking      P layfulness in Public Space

I’ve always been fascinated by the vigorous force that drives children

to explore and interact with the world around them. Playing comes by nature to children, as an instinctive curiosity fortesting their surroundings for its potential usefulness. Playfulness forms a driving force forcreativity, social cohesion and learning

. Yet, somewhere in ‘growing up’ we tend to lose touch with our playfulness. The Irish playwright George Bernard Shaw once said : ‘We don’t stopplaying because we grow old, we grow old because we stop playing.’

Ultimately, play leads to the seemingly useless emotional pleasure of sheer joy. This uselessnesscould be the cause of the abandonment of playful activities in our society, it makes way forperformance and efficiency.Public space is the common space of our society, however, the conditioned behavior we exhibit here does not allow for playful intervention. Because of the patterned use of the public space,

we feel there simply isn’t the room and the time to engage in playful activities. Therefore, to

facilitate these playful activities in public space, existing structures of social contexts have to beadapted or transformed to engage your audiences. By testing the boundaries of our establishedsociety we can evoke engagement, raising awareness of the fluidity of our society and theexistential fulfillment of playfulness.

Mostly our public spaces give us passive recreation, a place to sit down. But there are alternatives. One is they could offer active recreation opportunities another is to offer playful recreation opportunities. Public spaces as Playspaces.

Here's some ideas....

Playful urban spaces: a lesson from Bilbao

I was in Bilbao a few weekends ago and spent several evenings in Plaza Nueva, a square in the old town and a popular weekend meeting place for local people. While grown-ups enjoyed drinks and tapas (or to use the Basque term, pintxos) in bars under the elegant colonnades, the central area was humming with children playing. Ball games, scooter races, chalk-picture-drawing, heely tricks (remember Heelys?) and chit-chat were just some of what was in the mix.
Early on in the evening (in Spanish terms, that is: up till about 10 pm) most of the children out playing were aged between 4 and 10. The level of high-energy play – impromptu football matches, fast scooter rides and chase games – was striking. At times, footballs flew over the ironwork and hit a table, or a scooting child zoomed down a slope and weaved past a pedestrian. These potential irritations were almost always greeted with a smile, if not simply ignored. I did not see a single argument, far less a security guard, the whole weekend.  link



Playful Interactions Stimulating
Physical Activity in Public Space


Adding Playful Interaction to Public Spaces

Monday, February 1, 2016

20th Street Park Proposal

I will be suggesting what follows at the 20th St Park meeting .

The Problem

There's a problem with many of our neighborhood parks - they are not meeting the recreation needs of many segments of our neighborhoods populations and because of this a large percentage of people in our neighborhoods are not using them......

 I was visiting Manhattan's Union Square Park , I talked to a youth  there who told me, there's benches for seniors  and a playground for the little kids but nothing for us.” 

 This  is Clement Clark Moore Park, it offers youth, teens,  adults, seniors and special needs folks nothing but a bench to sit on, and is pretty much  underutilized and/or unused  by people in these groups.

Our neighborhood parks are not the only one with this problem...

 Contemporary American playgrounds don’t hold or inspire older kids...More and more, preteens avoid the playground altogether, choosing instead to spend time indoors, most likely sitting in front of some kind of screen...What teen will go to the playground to play a game when he has better graphics at home on his computer or anywhere on his cell phone? The Science of Play

I was talking to a senior who uses a wheelchair, she asked me if I could let her know if there were any inclusive playgrounds  in NYC. I asked her to define inclusive playground . She said a park that would have activities for her to participate in. I could only think of two, neither of which was in Brooklyn where she lives...
The Solution

The best way to solve the problem would be to have staffed park houses offering a variety of recreation equipment and activities for everyone,. Unfortunately a high parks official told me NYC cannot afford to offer staff at its parks. There is another way...- Have the NYC  library  that is nearest a park or playground act as a Recreation equipment library for that park.

This is Chelsea's new  20th Street park (red) 

The Andrew Heiskell Library for the Visually Impaired (green) is a short distance from it...

This  library can either:
a)-Lend inclusive play equipment for use in the 20th Street park 
-or alternatively if there is a lack of space or it  is too much trouble- 
b)--Lend keys to lockers in the 20th Street park  that will contain inclusive play equipment.

Outdoor & vandal proof lockers

(in scenario A-the Library would probably pay for equipment
In scenario B the Parks Department would pay for equipment ) 

In both instances signage will be placed at both libraries and parks letting people know this service is available

Here's several examples  of inclusive play equipment that could be made available

            Lego is used by people  with Autism,  Downs Syndrome , and other special needs 

                                                           Audible ball(above)  for the visually impaired

By offering a good variety of equipment like the above, this  idea can potentially do is transform most any NYC park into an inclusive park. 

This is not a radical idea ,it's done in other states/countries

In Sacramento Ping pong paddles are available at Bell Cooledge Library for use in adjacent belle Cooledge Park. The paddles are among the most popular  items that the library lends. 

7 of 17 libraries in  Tallinn,  Estonia lend sporting equipment 

Inline image 1

In Maine a good number of libraries lend unusual things including sports equipment...
“Our Library checks out basketballs to be used on the courts near the library.  We also have frisbees, jump ropes and hacky sacks available to borrow. The balls have been replaced many times through the years and have resulted in much good will with the kids after school. When they (the kids!) start bouncing off the walls, we suggest they bounce a basketball instead. .”  Maine Library 

  In Australia, most of western Australia's  130 libraries lend sports equipment. 

I have suggested the idea of connecting libraries and parks to a few cities .one of note is Miami, Florida...I recently learned that ..
as part of the Knight Library Challenge Initiative, the Miami Dade Library system put in a grant proposal...

"A partnership to create a shared physical and programmatic connection between a City of Miami Park and a Miami-Dade Public Library

 21st Century libraries aim to create unique partnerships and reach users beyond the physical walls of the library itself. While parks and libraries individually serve as community anchors, establishing shared physical spaces and gathering areas, establishing new routes for the provision of library and parks services and activities, teaching children and teens how to use and benefit from the library's many resources, and combining the core competencies of library and parks professionals in educating and engaging children and teens would serve as a model, not only for parks and libraries throughout the country, but would also serve as a model for many other locations throughout Miami-Dade County where parks and libraries co-exist."

The proposal was submitted  jointly by:
Ray Baker- Assistant Director, Miami-Dade Public Library System
Kevin Kirwin- Director, City of Miami Parks Department

So after contacting Miami with this idea,  they  "got it."  I hope NYC will "get it" also...

Do you need to build a park  to implement this idea?   No. But given that 20th Street park has   being funded it makes it easier to do this idea without looking for additional sources of funding to do so. 


As part of the project at 20th Street  I'd also like to see this concept tested at a few other area park-libraries, to fine tune it. ($5 million is being spent on the 20th Street  park, spending a small amount  of this for testing this concept at another park  as part of the design process   is not unreasonable....) Here's one idea...

Hell's Kitchens Columbus Branch Library and Surrounding Parks 

Columbus Branch Library -PS 111

On Saturday I was in Hells Kitchen. I noticed a Schoolyard into Playground was on 52nd and 10th. at PS 111 Only about 4 people were using the park. It had 2 concrete ping pong tables that nobody was using. I saw a fellow playing with his kid, and asked him if he saw people using the tables. He said almost never. . By having Columbus Library on 51st and 10th lend ping pong paddles and other recreation equipment (and/or  keys to lockers in the park  holding paddles/recreation  equipment)    it would help activate this  fixed equipment park. 

Columbus Branch Library could  also serve Hell's Kitchen Park and Gutenberg Playground

Doing this will  also have the side effect of immediately creating Hells Kitchen's first inclusive parks, for all ages and abilities. And by testing at Columbus Library and its   3 nearby parks  it will also show how a single branch library can become the community hub of recreation equipment lending for multiple nearby parks. 

(If 20th Street park is not interested in this concept, I will propose it separately at the CB4 Parks committee for implementation in Hell's Kitchen) 

Hope to see some of you at the meeting on the 12th.

More details on partnering Libraries and Parks  can be found at 

More details on Inclusion can be found at   this link