In the United States, a wooden playground is a rare sight to behold. Though kids are naturally drawn to the textured surface and natural feel of wood, safety and maintenance concerns have drawn us toward the bright (some might say garish) allure of plastic.
Not so in Berlin, Germany, where wood dominates many playgrounds. Part-time resident Judith Markoff Hansen was kind enough to share some of the wonderful photos she's snapped while wandering through neighborhoods, mostly in the "old East." Judith says of the city's neighborhood parks:
"All elements of the new Berlin come together here. Young families are flocking to some of the gentrifying old eastern areas and new friendships between parents are being formed. Playgrounds initiate that...and a sense of community."
Of course, friendships and communities are forged on wooden and plastic playgrounds alike. Still, it's hard to look at these photos and not feel a tug of nostalgia. Wood may have its disadvantages, but when it comes to play equipment, its warmth and whimsy remain unmatched.
Photos are by Judith Markoff Hansen, unless otherwise noted.
This isn't the first time we've blogged about Berlin. See other awesome playgrounds in the city.
From October 1-15, a group of Philadelphia teens worked with Public Workshop to "design-build" a one-of-a-kind adventure playground in the Pennsylvania Horticultural Society’s PHS Pop-Up Garden. The teens built the framework, then invited kids and their families to imagine what was on, around, and in between. They designed and built ramps, the climbing wall, the swing, a treehouse, a see-saw, and much more.
Using simple materials found at any hardware store, the teens, kids, and parents exemplified a can-do spirit while highlighting the importance of play, civic engagement, and community building.
Alex says, "smartly targeting certain age groups to design and build particular portions (relative to their abilities)... leads to maximum social impact, a well-built structure, a really cool playground that was singularly impossible to imagine by one person or a group, and a heck of a lot of FUN." Check out these inspiring photos:
Photos courtesy of Alex Gilliam at Public Workshop. Check out more photos and like Public Workshop on Facebook.
All children need access to a playground, but that doesn't mean play has to be confined to swings and slides. Play, by its very nature, is spontaneous -- it can happen nearly anywhere, with nearly anything, and under nearly any circumstances. After World War II, Danish landscape architect Theodore Sorensen observed children's delight over playing with rubble and scraps, an observation that led to the birth of Adventure Playgrounds.
We have covered some notable Adventure Playgrounds previously in this blog. While Europe boasts over a thousand, our risk-adverse society can only stomach four. However, a new kind of Adventure Playground has begun popping up, literally. In New York City, a team of play and child professionals, designers, artists and filmmakers are pioneering Pop-Up Adventure Playgrounds, in which children create their own worlds out of everyday items that are not normally considered "toys."
Just as play can erupt spontaneously, a Pop-Up Adventure Playground can pop up anywhere -- in a park, a front yard, a plaza, on a sidewalk... the possibilities are endless. The idea is simply to get kids playing outside with other kids, in an environment that flexes their creative muscles. The best part? A Pop-Up Adventure Playground doesn't have to cost a dime. While it may be difficult for adults to envision the play opportunities presented by, say, a stack of newspapers, children will inevitably turn them into hats, or curtains, or faux snowballs.
Take a look at these child-ruled kingdoms:
We are huge fans of adventure playgrounds, which allow children to build, tinker, explore, and manipulate their own play environments. Though Europe boasts over a thousand adventure playgrounds, in the litigious United States, the number has slowly dwindled. But the city of Mercer Island, Wash. is bucking the trend.
It recently unveiled its new adventure playground with a twist -- it's in the middle of a forest. The city, a Playful City USA community for three years running, invites children to "come and dig in the dirt, build forts, play knights and dragons, or create whatever world you imagine."
Sadly, only a few months after opening, the Mercer Island Adventure Playground is already facing a budget crunch and needs to raise funds to stay open. As it is only one in four adventure playgrounds in the United States, we hope you will pitch in and spread the word! Here, Mercer Island kids talk about what the adventure playground means to them:
Slip and slide in a mud pit. Build a fort. Navigate a rope bridge. This is not your ordinary playground. For three decades, Irvine, California’s Adventure Playground has challenged kids, fueled their imaginations, and invited them to get their hands dirty.
"Adventure playgrounds" have been around since World War II, when Theodore Sorensen, a Danish landscape architect, observed children's delight over playing with rubble and scraps. He imagined "a junk playground in which children could create and shape, dream and imagine a reality," taking risks in a controlled environment.
In Europe today, there are around a thousand adventure playgrounds across the continent. How many adventure playgrounds are there in the United States?
Three. And soon perhaps, two.
The Adventure Playground in Irvine has been closed for two years now, due to the construction of a new community center at University Community Park. Residents had assumed it would reopen until they spotted a bulldozer sitting in the playground and learned that the city planned to demolish it.
Luckily, residents are not taking the news quietly. They banded together to form the group “Defend Adventure Playground” and have already succeeded in halting demolition—at least temporarily. According to their blog:
When confronted about the fact that a bulldozer is currently sitting in Adventure Playground at this moment, [Community Services head authority] Mr. Fisk remarked that the city’s initial intent was to demolish the entire site; but given the amount of community involvement in defending the site, there will be no demolition under further community dialogue takes place!
To keep the playground open, the City of Irvine must address safety, accessibility, and maintenance issues, all of which will require resources that the city may not have at its disposal. Yet where there’s a will, there’s a way. With the dedication of the nearly 400 concerned citizens who have joined the fight to save this cherished playground, we remain hopeful that the city will find a way.
Live in Irvine? Get involved here.
Photos courtesy of Defend Adventure Playground.
UPDATE: Victory! According to the Defend Adventure Playground blog, "the City of Irvine by the unanimous vote of the city council has officially appropriated $400,000 for the re-construction of Adventure Playground." The blog continues, "It’s time to put down the picket signs and put on the thinking caps. We have a playground to build. Long live the AP legacy!" Congratulations to the Irvine community for not only fighting the good fight, but for winning it!
Wielding hammers and saws is not a commonly promoted playground activity, but it's par for the course at Berlin, Germany's adventure playground, Kolle 37. Children are given free rein to build their own forts, some as high as three stories. And parents aren't allowed!
Lawsuits? Injuries? Not according to Alex Gilliam, author of the Public Workshop blog. Alex says:
"Even if you just spend fifteen minutes watching closely, you will witness children testing their creation for sturdiness, stability and load. Testing in this fashion is how they learn. Sometimes their solutions for an overly flexible bridge or a sagging railing are not the most aesthetically pleasing or efficient material wise, but they will keep adding, shifting or changing until it feels safe."
Special thanks to Alex for providing photos and bringing this playground to our attention! Click here for more photos and information.
Know of an exceptionally cool playground? Got pictures? We'd love to know about it!