It takes a village to raise a child, and as residents of Corning, N.Y. know, it takes a neighborhood to build a playground. Since 2008, kaboom.org member CarderMom, a parent and alumnus of Carder Elementary School, has been tirelessly mobilizing the community to build a new playground for the school and surrounding neighborhood.
This is no ordinary playground. Designed in part by Carder students with the help of custom playground architects Leathers & Associates, the wooden structure reflects the town's architecture, recreating some of its more iconic elements, like the town clocktower (below).
The playground gives tribute to Corning, N.Y.'s clocktower. Right photo by Doug Kerr (cc).
The kids named the playground Koala Run and pitched in to help build it over the span of five days this past October. Here's a video tour of the whimsical playspace:
Tour other cool wooden playgrounds.
It’s a runway… no, it’s a bike path… no, it’s a skate park… no, it’s Berlin, Germany’s Tempelhof airport! Since May, the 950-acre swath of land outside of the closed-down airport has served as a huge public park, attracting just as many playing adults as playing children—if not more.
The often windy conditions and decisive lack of trees make the airport-turned-park an ideal location for kite fliers and kite surfers. Meanwhile, skaters and bikers coast down the runways and picnickers lounge on the surrounding grassy expanses.
Starting in 2013, Berlin plans to invest $48 million in the airstrip to house the 2017 International Garden Exhibition, meaning that most of it will be replanted and landscaped. Some residents wish the city would just leave the park alone, insisting that people are enjoying it as is.
That much is clear. Whether or not you agree with the planned renovations, it’s heartening to see Berliners young and old flocking to a shared outdoor space and playing away their afternoons:
Photo by Chris Grabert (cc).
Photo by Oscar Swartz (cc).
Photo by Bart Bernardes (cc).
Photo by Bart Bernardes (cc).
Photo by Chris Grabert (cc).
Photo by Oscar Swartz (cc).
Other posts on cool playgrounds in Berlin:
When one of our favorite bloggers emailed to ask if we were interested in a guest post on a "hidden bicycle playground," we were intrigued, to say the least. Alex, tell us more!
Admittedly, as you may know, I have mixed feelings about playgrounds that are created because we have not designed our streets or public spaces to be inclusive of different age groups and uses. That being said, it is hard not to be charmed, and to a degree impressed, by the bicycle park in Berlin’s Gorlitzer Park. Located in the Kreuzberg neighborhood of the city, it is one of a networked medley of play and learning options for the community that I visited on a research fellowship two summers ago.
Unsure how to ride a roundabout and need a little practice before you head out on the busy streets? Check. How about boning up on your sidewalk bike path to street bike path transitions? (Yes, they are different.) Check. Did you say that you need to log a few more hours learning how to ride on cobble stones? Double check.
With working stoplights as well as programmed "free ride" or "race track" time, the park functions both as a place to safely ride your bike and an important civic teaching tool. Indeed, the designers of the playground have attempted to replicate every possible bicycle pathway, street and pavement condition found in Berlin.
Many of my misgivings about the playground waned when I got to experience the complexity of some of Berlin’s bike paths firsthand. Even for an accomplished competitive cyclist, Berlin’s bike paths are not a simple affair, frequently transitioning from road paths to sidewalk paths to singular spaces for bicycles. Even with practice, the bike path network is interesting in that its complexity requires consistent vigilance on the part of its users, quite possibly making it safer as a result. At the very least, the playground helps budding or more hesitant cyclists develop some of the skills necessary to safely navigate the city.
And why not have a curry wurst, play a game of volleyball, or learn how to properly lock your bicycle in between laps?
Unlike most American playgrounds, the Gorlitzer bicycle park also has amenities and activities that make it a more complete public space, encouraging people of all ages to linger.
It should be noted that I ran into some really stiff resistance from the playground managers when photographing the space and thus the pictures you see here do not fully convey the complexity of the available experiences or the large number of children using the park. Most of the images are my best attempt at "spy shots" and mostly had to occur after the space emptied out. Apparently, I am not a very good spy.
Learn more about Public Workshop,which is dedicated to helping individuals, schools and communities achieve great things through design.
Other guest posts by Alex Gilliam:
What is it about wooden playgrounds? In the age of plastic, maybe it's the novelty factor. Their muted tones and whimsical structures offer a refreshing respite from the bright colors and standard-issue equipment that dominate most playspaces today.
Our Park-A-Day Summer Challengers found that their kids were drawn to wooden playgrounds, but because of maintenance and safety concerns, they were few and far between. Here are three that they were able to find:
Concord Township Park. Glenn Mills, Pa.
Sherry Frick says, "No prefab commercially produced playground equipment here! The entire HUGE area is built of wood and tires and has every possible playground element you can think of, plus more. From a distance it looks like a castle with many turrets. My boys said, "How come we don't have a playground like this back home?"
Penny Park. Evanston, Ill.
Liza Sullivan says, "This is a truly magical, rich, and varied play space. As we approached the park, the children and I fell in awe of its uniqueness. The majestic, wooden towering structures provided a treasured sensory experience (lacking in most play structures) – the feel, sound, and smell of the old wood inspired both imaginative qualities, as well as a clear integration with the surrounding natural elements. To me what was most captivating were the ubiquitous private places – the wooden narrow pathways, the underlying crawlspaces with hidden artwork, and the enclosed towers, all providing secret spaces for children to play."
Discovery Playground. Tarpon Springs, Fla.
Tracey Quinn says, "In the theme of a castle, this playground features winding tunnels and stairs, numerous climbing and hanging activities, a tot lot and a tire swing. It is definitely a destination location for kids of all ages."
Any great wooden playgrounds in your area! Send us photos!
In our ongoing quest to find innovative playgrounds around the world, we bring you Montreal, Canada’s Salamander Playground, which opened last year in Mount Royal Park. Guest blogger Alex Smith shares photos and observations from his recent visit:
A bird’s eye view (left) shows that the playground’s outline takes the form of a stylized salamander—hence, the name. Two black climbing rocks serve as the amphibian’s eyes and four play zones are housed in the front and rear footprints. The playground pays tribute to the blue spotted salamander, a species native to Montreal that finds some respite in this green urban oasis, where it is protected.
The equipment here is atypical. If it doesn’t require flash-of-fun, kid-powered motion, then kids have to scrabble over, through, or around it. In comparison with the riotous colors of the 1960s-era playspace that preceded it, Salamander Playground is a study in muted, minimalist tones of silver, blue and black.
Says Project Manager Isabelle Giasson, “We wanted things that kids could say, ‘Oh, that’s different, what can I do with this?’ It wasn’t the regular slides, or swings that we were looking for. We were really after pieces that could be used in multiple ways, encouraging discovery and a little experimentation.”
Here’s a taste of how “different” the play equipment at Salamander Playground really is:
For more photos and information, visit Alex’s great blog, PlayGroundology.
Aerial Salamander Playground photo by Marc Cramer. All other photos by Alex Smith.
“I can see the whole entire city from up here.” “We can spy on people.” “I want to stay up here forever!” These are just some of the comments that staff members at Providence Children’s Museum have overheard from kids playing on The Climber, a new 24-foot climbing structure in the museum’s Children’s Garden that also doubles as a work of public art.
The Climber challenges kids to reach new heights as they crawl through a labyrinth of undulating platforms. This time-lapse video shows how it was constructed and how kids play on it:
Kids can also explore below-ground in Underland (which just won "Best Outdoor Playspace" in RI Monthly), where they scuttle through tunnels; dig in a sand pit; and play with natural loose parts, like acorns, pinecones, and sticks.
We have long promoted the importance of child-directed free play, and Museum Executive Director Janice O’Donnell is clearly a kindred spirit. She says of The Children’s Garden, “We set out to create environments to inspire and encourage play, but where play would be directed by the kids. Kids would make the stories, determine the possibilities, push the limits, invent new uses for whatever we provided. And they do. To me, that means total success.”
Photos courtesy of Providence Children’s Museum.
In celebration of World Oceans Day, we are pleased to welcome our guest blogger, Alex Smith. He shares some of the inspiring boat-themed playgrounds he’s found in Nova Scotia and Quebec on Canada’s east coast.
“Lobster!” cries out Noah enthusiastically.
“I’ve got another one,” Nellie shouts into a gust of wind.
We are in a playground adjacent to the fishing harbour of L’Étang-du-nord in Magdalen Islands—a small archipelago on Canada’s east coast. Not everyone here is a fisherman, but with $50 million (Cdn.) in annual revenues, it’s the most important sector of the local economy.
During our short stay, we come across two lovingly crafted fishing-boat playspaces. One trumpets the bright colors of Acadie—blue, red, and yellow. She’s built to scale and can hold plenty of stacked traps on her aft deck. This is a popular spot with the two newest crew members of the Étang-du-nord fishing fleet, and we return for a second visit of imaginative play. The chilly weather is not a deterrent. The life-size prop for make-believe is a powerful magnet.
There's much the same excitement at another boat about nine miles south in Havre-Aubert. This is a fishing vessel situated at the end of the historic La Grave stretch. The kids are in fine fettle, flowing between the three levels of play and each taking turns as captain in the wheelhouse.
Back on mainland, in Bedford, Canada, I find a loose replica of HMCS Haida, a ship that served in the Royal Canadian Navy during World War II. This playscape has been a real draw for families since it opened in 2004. Even in the chill of late November when we first visited, there was plenty of kid-led clatter, deck-defying feats, and wondrous climbing to exceptional heights.
Both communities have chosen playgrounds that are reflections of themselves. They are not of the mass-production mold. Their look and character are intrinsically their own. The world of play would be a much better place with more of these vernacular playgrounds that celebrate local culture and history.
Know of any boat-themed playgrounds? Send photos our way!
What is the state of play in the developing world? Marcus Veerman, founder of Go Play!, thinks it could be better.
When Marcus set off for Thailand, he was planning to draw from his experience at Hands On Learning, an Australian NGO. The idea was to get Thai schoolchildren involved in more hands-on, community-oriented work. It quickly became apparent what this work would be: Within weeks, a school asked if he would like to help build a playground. Marcus said, “Sure!” Now, two years and 45 playgrounds later, he is looking to expand his efforts to other developing countries.
His innovative model involves: 1) using materials already available in the community, 2) drawing from the expertise of community members to build the equipment—for instance, finding a local welder, and 3) involving kids and adults from the community in the build.
The result? Well, take a look for yourself:
While Marcus is not sure how his playgrounds would fare in overly litigious countries like the United States, he makes a concerted effort to meet safety standards. And while playground costs here range from $30,000 to $1 million, Marcus’ budget for each playground to date has been under $5,000.
Since local materials are less durable than standard U.S. playground materials, he tries to ensure that the community is equipped with the know-how, resources, and motivation to maintain their new playspaces over time. Marcus says, "In this context, I would rather focus on maintainability as opposed to durability. It's a more sustainable long-term model, even though it seems a bit backwards to us in the West."
Here are some of the amazing things you can do with tires, wood, and the occasional barrel:
If, like us, you just couldn’t get enough of these pictures, there are lots more here.
Marcus is actively looking for volunteers who are interested in getting involved with Go Play! Globetrotters looking to do something meaningful abroad should visit his website at playgroundideas.org.
You can also contact Marcus through our site.
We're excited to introduce guest blogger Alex Gilliam, director of Public Workshop, who spent part of last summer in search of the perfect see-saw. Read on!
The see-saw is probably one of the most vilified pieces of equipment you will find on a playground. When I started writing this piece, my intention was to show some of the many examples I found last summer, while on a fellowship in Germany, of how designers have tried to make the see-saw safer.
Anecdotally, I had heard from a variety of sources, experts and otherwise, that the see-saw is largely to blame for the severed fingers, broken limbs, head injuries and bullying antics that occur on playgrounds—hence, their general disappearance since I was a young lad. I started digging into research so that I could make a particularly strong case for design decisions, such as moving the pivot out of reach of the user. Do you know what I found?
Nothing. Zilch. Nada.
Folks, the see-saw (otherwise known as a teeter-totter, ridey horse or hickey horse) wasn’t even among the top four causes of playground injuries. And neither was its even-more-demonized companion, the merry-go-round. In fact, it seems that statistically, most children get injured by simply running into things. This may sound a bit callous, but learning how to not run into things is an important and fundamental survival skill for children and adults alike. So maybe these injuries are largely for the best.
Anyway, regardless of whether the statistics support what formerly sounded like near-see-saw-hysteria, while in Germany last summer I saw a number of great and really pleasing examples of designers trying to make a better teeter-totter. Enjoy.
First up, perhaps to avoid the finger severing problem, these designers placed the pivot waaaay out of reach and in fact used a spring to allow teetering. By using acutely angled tubular steel, the designers have also made it remarkably hard to do another favorite see-saw-related activity—standing, walking or climbing on the lever.
It’s a little bit harder to bully someone when using the device requires the cooperation of four people. I suppose there are ways around this, but I still like how this piece of equipment allows the users to stand or sit and encourages them to use their entire body to "play."
At first I was a bit skeptical of Germany’s overwhelming use of wood and timber in its playgrounds, but it was pretty hard not to be won over by this Viking-boat see-saw. And through the smart use of springs and rope, you can imagine children (or me) actually being able to replicate being on the high seas. Yep, I would have loved, loved, loved this as a kid.
What happens when you ask smart designers to eliminate all of the most "dangerous" aspects of a see-saw while challenging them to not only preserve the fun, but triple it? The see-saw-trampoline, of course.
This gem, found on a playground in Kreuzberg in Berlin, is a wonder. Not only did the designers remove the finger-severing pivot and ditch the head-knocking/foot-crunching lever but they have created a piece of play equipment that consistently beckons young and old alike.
Is play in the United States too risk-adverse? That was the question posed on Friday by our VP of Program Management, Kate Becker, who wrote about touring playgrounds in the UK. It generated quite a discussion, with many waxing nostalgic for the “good old days.”
KaBOOM! Facebook fan Nicole Fleming commented, “I remember a park I went to when I was little—there were pieces of wood nailed together with tires, bridges that swayed and shook, and rocks (real ones!) that you climbed on and jumped off.”
A fellow fan, Colleen Greco Trovato, echoed the sentiment: “My personal swingset lifted out of the gravel with each push from below as we always aimed to touch the sky or do a loop. I got my fingers twisted in the chains and I swung on the monkey bars only to hit the screws that stuck out. The joy and thrill of it all.”
Have we in the United States lost sight of the delicate balance between safety and risk? And in so doing, have we sacrificed that element of inspiration that can make playgrounds so memorable?
In many of London’s playgrounds, whimsy abounds:
Diana, Princess of Wales Memorial Playground (also pictured above):
Know of a whimsical playground? Tell us about it!