Tag Archives: play park

The Quest for Playgrounds

We hit two completely different but exciting playgrounds on our southern travels, both worth a mention because I’m totally obsessed with playground design.  It’s just so exciting to find a playground that isn’t made up of the exact same set of a dozen different elements, just arranged differently or set out in different colors.

Chehaw Play Park in its old-fashioned wooden glory.

First, the play park at Chehaw, in Albany, Georgia, was a sprawling playground with lots of imaginative elements, including a boat and a rocket ship.  This was the sort of playground that I saw more of in my youth but which has been almost entirely replaced by prefabricated plastic and metal equipment.  I guess wood was deemed to not hold up well enough.  Another nice thing about this playground was how shady it was.  The planners had clearly planted trees and designed the space a long time ago with a shady future in mind, that was greatly appreciated by us on this day in the upper 90’s.  This is in complete contrast to the playground near by grandmother’s house (one of those prefab kinds of affairs) where there’s not a tree in sight.

Mushroom and BalletBoy on the "slide" made of tiny rolling wheels in Centennial Park in Atlanta. Check out those molded "rocks."

The second was the playground in Centennial Park in downtown Atlanta.  This is more of the prefabricated type of play equipment, but there were a few innovative additions.  Also, the otherwise flat space had been cleverly molded into rubbery faux hills and rocks.  I’ve been seeing these increasingly in parks, especially on a small scale.  I hope more playspaces decide to install them as they are so much more open-ended and interesting than just another slide.  Large sunshades covered the area.  Overall, worth the stop after we had finished our run through at the aquarium.

Climbing Spiders

Climbing structure in Druid Hill Park in Baltimore

Last time we went to the Baltimore Zoo, I spied, over the hill in the park, an amazing climbing structure plucked out of my childhood and knew that at some point in the near future, we simply had to go climb it.

I grew up in the middle of nowhere, without any playgrounds (it’s okay, don’t pity me, I had my own creek and barn).  However, my grandparents lived in New Orleans, which is the place that, to this day, somehow defines some aspect of “city” in my consciousness.  There were many excellent city playgrounds there.  Most memorably, around the corner from my grandparents’ house on Constance Street, there was a corner park with only one play structure: a giant pole with a bunch of red ropes stretching out and anchored into the ground supporting a large net of more ropes for climbing.  In my memory, this structure was enormously tall and perpetually full of kids all trying to get to the top.

Mushroom and BalletBoy climbing across the bridge.

I’m sure there are many more of these out there, but until I spotted this one in Baltimore, the only place where I had seen another one of these climbing structures was during our trip to Paris a couple years ago.  At the time, the kids were slightly too small to fully partake in them.  The ones we saw there were also much, much more grand in scale than this one.  They were closer to my memory of the one in New Orleans.  As a single play structure, I think the design is just brilliant.  This one has a bridge between the two towers, where kids can hang upside down and edge along.  There are a million different ways to get caught inside the ropes and make your way to the top.

Race you to the top!

This one isn’t that tall, but I was still slightly amazed to see it.  After all, those gaps you use to climb the rope are plenty big enough to fall through.  A kid could absolutely do a dive off the top and get tangled in the ropes below before falling and breaking his arm or leg.  This play structure doesn’t have the risk completely taken out of it.  I don’t think it’s actually dangerous at all, mind you.  I just think risk, or at least perceived risk, has homogenized and dumbed down most of our playgrounds.  If you want to see some slightly more creative thoughts on what playgrounds could be, I highly recommend the blog Playscapes, which is full of some fascinating stuff, mostly from Europe, unfortunately.

All the proper experts tell us how essential play is in brain development in young children.  Kids will always find ways to play, even without any playgrounds (or creeks or barns, at that).  However, I really dream of playgrounds with better design and especially with more varied design.  It would be nice if playgrounds didn’t all fit into one of just a couple different molds.