Tuesday, September 28, 2010

David Rockwell and Imagination Playground in the New York Times

There's more than enough coverage on Imagination Playground, designed David Rockwell's re-imagining of adventure playgrounds for the 21st century.  But I figured I'd add to the chorus.

Rockwell penned (ink-ed?) an "Op-Chart" for The New York Times this past weekend.  The chart, rendered in reassuring architect-style (I'm sure there's a technical term for it, but I'm not an architect), is essentially a different rendering of the "standard" imagination playground in a box.  While the concept of the chart is a little cheesy -- it looks nothing like a typical architectural rendering, because that's the point -- it is effective and gets Rockwell's point across:
In creating the Imagination Playground in Lower Manhattan — a playground with lots of loose parts for children to create their own play spaces — we realized that many of the elements with the greatest value to children were inexpensive and portable.
At 10 grand (or probably less a set), I wonder how long it is before wealthy parents start buying them for their kids.  When you think about it, if you're willing to put in a pool at $25,000, what's another $8,000 for some play blocks?  (Not my league, though.)

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Irvine's Adventure Playground Needs a Bulldozer

OK, that's a misleading headline.  Somebody might read that and think I'm really proposing the demolition of Irvine, CA's Adventure Playground.  The playground looks more like a vacant lot than a fancy new playground with brightly colored equipment, but that's the point, really.  With mud, fort-like structures, movable parts, rope bridges, and the like, it sounds very much like a playground for creativity, an Imagination Playground on the cheap (not to mention more than 60 years ahead of its time, since the concept's been floating around since the 1940s).

Now there are moves afoot to tear down the playground, which has led supporters in the community to create their own Defend Adventure Playground website.  (I particularly appreciate the seige mentality implied by the use of the verb "defend.")

I'm not going to get into who's right and who's wrong here -- I've seen more than enough of these situations to know that it's very gray, not black and white, and even if you disagree, it's often a matter of perspective.  (I'll also note that it's not exactly a new issue.)

But I do wish that they had one of these near us.  There are just 3 (and since AP's been closed for a couple summers, just 2) of these in the US, as opposed to a thousand or so in Europe.  Wouldn't it be cool to see your kids tromp through the mud, construct a fort (repeatedly), and cross a rope bridge?  Maybe even -- we can dream, right? -- pretend to operate a bulldozer?

(Hat tip: KaBOOM!)

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Review: Kachina Park (Phoenix, AZ)

Kachina Park is a little neighborhood park in a part of Phoenix I like to call "Arkadia with a 'K'." That's because it's adjacent to but not formally part of the (comparatively) swanky Arcadia neighborhood, even though people -- and realtors -- who do live there describe themselves as living in Arcadia.  (I say that with affection because I used to live in a couple different parts of "Arkadia with a 'K'.")

The park itself has some room for running, a meandering path, and a fair number of reasonably mature trees.  It also has a playground, one that Miss Mary Mack remembered for something called "the wheel."


No, "the wheel" was not some sort of medieval torture device.  It was just that wheel thingy above, maybe 2 1/2 feet in diameter and about 6 feet off the ground.  If a kid leans off the adjacent platform, they can grab a hold and make almost one full rotation.  Miss Mary Mack had lots of fun on it... for maybe a couple minutes, then moved on.

Luckily, there were a couple other kids there on what proved to be a record-setting day heat-wise in Phoenix (111 degrees, woo!) so that Miss Mary Mack could play with (and show off to) other kids.  I suspect the park has more kids on days when the heat isn't quite so bad.  Also luckily, the main (big-kid) playground structure had a shade structure which somewhat helped.  (As a parent, I eventually excused myself to the shade of one of the trees lining the perimeter of the play area.)  There's nothing particular noteworthy about the play area itself -- it has the typical big-kid/small-kid play structure dichotomy with 2 toddler and 2 preschool swings.  There's sand, but part of the big-kid structure is wheelchair-accessible via that slightly springy surface stuff.  I wouldn't describe the park as having a surplus of shade and shaded-seating, but compared to a lot of other Phoenix-area parks, it does just fine.

There's no reason to visit this park if you're more than 15 minutes away because you almost certainly have a playground that provides a similar experience closer to you.  Still, it might be enough to make your kids smile.


What: Kachina Park Playground
Where: 42nd St. & E. Campbell Ave. / Phoenix, AZ 85018 (?) (map)
Parking: Street parking (but not a problem).  Bus serves 44th St. and probably (occasionally) Campbell Ave. itself.
Amenities: No restrooms, some shade from the trees, ramadas. Ground zero for the LGO folks (La Grande Orange, Postino) is a quarter-mile away.  That's pretty close for a Phoenix parks amenity.
Bottom Line: Nice, but for locals only.  (And perhaps those waiting for a seat at the LGO places.)

Monday, September 20, 2010

Richard Scarry's Playground

I've enjoyed dipping into Richard Scarry books as a parent.  More so than possibly any author, I think Scarry's work was more diffused into American kids' memories of a certain time and age.  This book is my wife's from when she was a child, but I had a copy as well.

What's interesting to me as I scan what Scarry chose to include in his "At the Playground" set of pages above is that fixed playground equipment isn't the primary focus.  Sure we see classics like seesaws, slides, swings, merry-go-rounds, jungle gyms, and sandboxes, but just 15 of the 36 animals on the page are using those features.  I would hazard a guess to say that the ratio for the best playgrounds is somewhat similar.  If the kids are just using the fixed features, I tend to think that the kids will move on to playgrounds when they (and their caregivers) find something new.

Richard Scarry's Best Word Book Ever (Golden Bestsellers Series) [Amazon Associates link]

Friday, September 17, 2010

Songs for Playgrounds

Here's a list I originally posted at Zooglobble, my family music website.  It's a list of kids music songs that relate to playgrounds, some quite clearly, some more tenuously...

IMG_3543.jpgI know that with Labor Day coming up and schools back in session, many areas of the country may see a decrease their use of playgrounds, but in the desert climates of Arizona, Labor Day means that the first month of school is in the books and it's possible to use playgrounds after 9:30 in the morning. So playground usage actually goes up 'round here.

In honor of this fact, and celebrating playgrounds generally, here's a list of playground and play-inspired songs. Or songs from play-inspired albums. Or songs from albums with "playground" in the name (excluding Putumayo Kids).

Humungous Tree - Barenaked Ladies (Snack Time!)
Multiplication Treehouse - Duplex (Ablum)
Jungle Gym - Jack Johnson Feat. G. Love (Sing-A-Longs & Lullabies For The Film Curious George)
Sign My Cast - Justin Roberts (Jungle Gym)
Hopping And Sliding - Music Together (Bells)
Water Balloon - The Okee Dokee Brothers (Take It Outside)
My Trampoline - Peter Himmelman (My Trampoline)
How Fast Can You Run? - The Quiet Two (Make Some Noise)
Playground - Ralph Covert (The Amazing Adventures Of Kid Astro)
Treehouse Orchestra - Ralph Covert (The Amazing Adventures Of Kid Astro)
The Great Outdoors - Ralph's World (All Around Ralph's World)
Swingset - Ralph's World (Green Gorilla, Monster & Me)
Ice Pack - Recess Monkey (Field Trip)
The Sandbox Song - Recess Monkey (Tabby Road)
Playground - Rocknoceros (Pink!)
Playground!!! - Roy Handy & the Moonshot ((I'm Gonna Be) Your Best Friend)
Little Sally Walker - Suni Paz (Songs For The Playground)
Playground - The Terrible Twos (Jerzy The Giant)
Ooh La! Ooh La! - They Might Be Giants (Here Come the 123s!)
The Bare Necessities - Tony Bennett (The Playground)

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Day of Play... or Something Like That

All I ask, when I hear about a day for something, is that people agree on what that day is and what it should be called.  KaBOOM! calls it 2010 Play Day, but is sort of vague on when it is (it would appear to be this weekend through next weekend, Sept, 25th).  It's basically a day (held in conjunction with National Public Lands Day) designed to encourage people to play outside and maybe help spruce up a playground or park.

Nickelodeon and its sibling channels and websites, on the other hand, have a similiar in concept (but apparently unrelated) day called the Worldwide Day of Play, which is scheduled for Sept. 25th.  On that Saturday, the channel will, in PR terms, "empower kids to get up and get active when its TV channels and websites go off the air and offline."  (From noon 'til 3 PM, screens will go dark, with a message encouraging folks to go outside and play.)

I get the purpose of the days, although the idea that Nick would be promoting turning off the TV set and computer makes about as much sense to me as REI telling people to stay at home and watch Two and a Half Men.  And I'm not going to make the argument that "every day should be a day of play," because that's not the point here -- they want a single day to raise visibility.

The problem is that it's probably still not visible enough.  National Public Lands Day is a (relatively) big deal 'round these parts, but there doesn't appear to be a single Play Day event in the Phoenix area.  Maybe it's more visible elsewhere, and if it is, good on them.  But there's room for improvement, no doubt.

As for me, I think I'm going to a playground on Saturday.  And it has nothing to do with this.  Perhaps I'll ask if others are aware what day it is...

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Review: Lincoln Park Playground (West Seattle, WA)

You know, I don't really remember much about the climbing structures at the southern end of West Seattle's Lincoln Park.  There were a couple, I think, one for the big kids, one for the small.  They weren't new or old, flashy or rundown.  They were just... there.  Really, they're fine, and I'm sure for the single-digit-aged residents of West Seattle, it's a playground that gets lots of use.  And the park itself is lovely, with a seawall providing the bikers and joggers and walkers lovely westward views of Puget Sound and lots of tall trees -- it seems to be the closest Seattle gets to Vancouver's Stanley Park.

What I want to talk about is the zip line.

I'm used to zip lines that are basically metal handles in a grooved metal track that's about 6-10 feet long (and maybe 6 feet off the ground).  Kids hang on, and if you're old enough you generate enough momentum when you jump to make it to the other end of the zip line.  Kids seem to like them enough, but as a parent it requires a lot of attention for the little ones who need to be pushed (that could be done by other kids) or want to do it even though they don't have the hanging arm strength.

It's possible that there are other zip lines like Lincoln Park's (right next to the playground), but I've never seen 'em.  The line itself is maybe 25 feet off the ground, and runs maybe 50 feet in length.  Suspended from the line is a rope swing whose seat is maybe 3 feet off the ground as you're zipping down the line.  You get on the platform (top picture) and the downward slope of the line gets you going in a fast (but not unreasonably so) manner down to the other end, where a big tire at the zip line puts a stop to your movement, flipping you at a 45-to-90-degree angle to the ground and sending you back up the line a little.

We spent a good hour there at the zip line with Miss Mary Mack, Little Boy Blue, and a couple of our local friends' kids.  Miss Mary Mack loved it -- she and our friends' kids spent time rating each others' runs down the line.  I went on a few runs with Little Boy Blue, but he was also able to do it himself.  It requires kids to cooperate (because it's hard to get on the swing at the top without somebody steadying it), it has some danger (but not too much), and gives kids a sensation they don't normally get, that of flying.

I'm not sure the zip line is so awesome that I'd recommend making it a part of a Seattle visit.  But I'm not so sure that I wouldn't recommend it, either.

What: Lincoln Park Playground
Where: 8011 Fauntleroy Way SW / Seattle, WA 98136 (map)
Parking: A couple lots, one bigger, one smaller.  Look like they often get packed.  Also served by bus.
Amenities: Rustic bathrooms down the hill, a bunch of shade from the trees, ramadas.  The playground and zip line are dug in a bit, surrounded by ledges, so decent places to sit.  No services nearby (unless you count the ferry).
Bottom Line: Zip line!  Zip line!  Zip line!

Monday, September 13, 2010

Rebecca Mead on Playgrounds

This website's focus thus far has been on reviews of actual playgrounds, and not so much playground theory.  I think that someone will have a pretty good idea pretty quickly of what makes a good playground, at least in part.  (For example, shade.  Benches.  Funky stuff.)

If you're enmeshed in the world of playground design, you certainly were aware of Rebecca Mead's article in the New Yorker a couple months ago.  She spent a lot of time talking about the recently-opened Imagination Playground at Burling Slip in South Street Seaport in New York City.  The basic conceit of Imagination Playground is not fixed equipment but rather movable pieces -- to me they sound like foam blocks on steroids.  She also spends a lot of time talking about how kids use playgrounds in ways their designers never intended.

If you're not enmeshed in the world of playground design and aren't a New Yorker subscriber, it's not so interesting that I'd recommend that you track down the article (though it's certainly a pleasant read).  In lieu of reading the article, I'd recommend listening to the podcast of maybe 15 minutes or so, which you can do so here.

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Review: Royal Palm Park (Phoenix, AZ)

Royal Palm Park is sometimes known as Butler Park (its northern boundary is Butler Dr.).  But it turns out there's another Butler Park as well (though that one's in Glendale).  So perhaps it's just an attempt to avoid a wacky mistaken-identity movie. Or maybe not.

Well, assuming you can find your way here (southeast of 15th Avenue and Butler Dr.), Royal Palm Park is a decent little neighborhood playground.  Remodeled fairly recently (2008, maybe?), it features a fairly large L-shaped climbing structure for the big kids and a smaller separate structure for the preschoolers.  There are a couple swings apiece for the big kids and toddlers, plus a couple springy sit-upons, all of which are placed amongst a large expanse of sand with little to no shade.  If there wasn't a nice tree in the northeast corner of the play area, it'd be virtually devoid of shade -- unsurprisingly, it's that corner of the area that gets most of the sand play.

In fact, if I had to come up with one distinguishing characteristic it's that kids seem to do a little more imaginative play here.  There's a play "snack stand" and all the shade and sand under the play structures (and tree) seem to be filled with kids digging and pretending.  Which is a good thing.  The only other distinguishing characteristic I can think of is that the rest of the park is basically one big L-shaped patch of land that lends itself to dogs playing.  Not really sure why, but I see plenty of dogs here, at least more so than I do at other parks.  I've even seen dog training classes here.

So there's relatively little reason to visit this park if you're from out of town, or even a different Valley city.  But it's part of our regular rotation.


What: Royal Palm Park
Where: 15th Avenue and Butler / Phoenix, AZ (
Parking: Parking lot of sufficient size.  I think it's served by bus.
Amenities: No bathroom, little shade, steps for sitting on. Also, in a neighborhood, so no services nearby.  Now that I write that, I'm wondering why we spend as much time here as we do.  Maybe because there are always kids here.
Bottom Line: Perfectly fine neighborhood park and playground.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Review: Ober Park Playground (Vashon Island, WA - Seattle)

I wasn't particularly expecting a fancy playground when we visited Seattle's Vashon Island.  It's semi-rural, and though there are plenty of nice cars driving off of and onto the ferry from West Seattle, it's also an island without a traffic light.  But Ober Park is a sweet little spot, definitely worth some of your time regardless of whether you're a resident or an interloper.  The park is tucked behind the library along the main north-south route that leads from the (northern) ferry terminal, just north of the main downtown (such as it is) intersection.

It's a decent assortment of new-ish climbing and play structures scattered amongst wood chips.  There's a big tire swing, a really tall slide, monkey bars that are crooked, the modern Kompan take on the spinning wheel...

There are a few swings (two big, two toddler, I think? maybe three of each), and while the two primary climbing structures still have the age division thing going on, for whatever reason it doesn't feel quite as forced as it does on other playgrounds.  There are a couple benches and walls for sitting on, bathrooms inside the library (I think), plus you're within a short walk of a small coffee/hot chocolate stand.

But the secret weapon of this playground is the little valley just north of the playground itself.  A gentle slope down into a grassy, amphitheatre-type setting surrounded by trees.  It kept our kids amused running up and down playing with other kids for a good hour, probably longer than the time they spent on the actual playground.  It's proof again that playgrounds aren't just structures, but any play space that allows for play.

I don't think Ober Park playground is reason by itself to visit Vashon Island, but as neighborhood playgrounds go, it's nearly perfect.
What: Ober Park Playground
Where: 17130 Vashon Highway SW, Vashon Island (map)
Parking: A relatively small parking lot shared with the community center and library.  We didn't have trouble finding a spot, but the lot was always more than half full.  Not sure of its public transportation accessibility, but seeing as it's next to the community center on the island's main road, I can't believe it's not bus-accessible.
Amenities: Drinks/food within walking distance.  Bathrooms inside the community center; I think there was a portajohn, too.  Also, trees.  Lots of really tall trees.
Bottom Line: This is a great little playground, definitely worth your time if you visit the Island.  (And if you live there, you're probably there weekly.)


Friday, September 3, 2010

Review: Balboa Park Pepper Grove Discovery Playground (San Diego, CA)

Until I spent a few years in the Valley of the Sun, I didn't quite understand the allure of San Diego.  But now that I'm a long time resident, I more fully appreciate the charms of the city.  And by "charms," I mean "sub-80-degree summer afternoons."  We don't make San Diego an annual trip like many folks here do, but we've gone a couple times, and playgrounds have been a key component of our trips there.

One of our favorite is Balboa Park's main playground, which, according to the park's blog, is officially called the Pepper Grove Discovery Playground.  It's on the southern end of the massive park, south of the Fleet Science Center, west of Park Boulevard.

As you can see from the pictures here and in the links above, there is nothing particularly special about the equipment itself.  There are a few swings, some updated and bulbous but not wow-able climbing equipment on rubberized surface, and some spring-y and scoop-y ride vehicles on sand.  There is also -- and I'm sorry I don't have a picture of this -- an egg-like chair that spins round and round.  The adult in me nearly throws up just thinking about it, but the kids of course love it.  It'd be a pretty good neighborhood playground.

The distinguishing reason to visit is the presence of all those trees lining the playground.  Those pepper trees provide lovely shade for when the mid-afternoon sun gets a little too intense to hang out on the playground itself (which is pretty devoid of shade or seating).  There are trees aplenty, so even if the playground gets a bit crowded (which it definitely can), you'll still likely be able to find a spot to hang out and have a snack or a whole picnic.  You'll be more likely to find a spot under the trees than you will a parking spot in the adjacent parking lot (you're more likely to find space a fifth-mile or so south on Park Boulevard).  There are bathrooms right there, but if you need snacks, a 10-minute stroll up the hill to the main part of Balboa Park (El Prado) will suit your needs nicely.

I can't say that this should be your first stop at Balboa Park, one of America's great parks.  But if you're going there, and your kids need some unstructured play time, it might be the best.

What: Balboa Park (Pepper Grove Discovery) Playground
Where: Balboa Park, San Diego, California, 92101 (map)
Parking: Parking lots adjacent to park, free, but can get full with Fleet Science Center and other visitors; street parking along Park Boulevard; big shuttle lot further south on Park served by free trams.  Served by bus.
Amenities: There's a bathroom of passable quality.
Bottom Line: You're in San Diego, playing on a playground on (probably) a beautiful day.  What could be wrong?

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Review: Granada Park (Phoenix, AZ)

There are few parks in this world that couldn't be improved by the presence of ducks.  Geese, I'm no so sure about, but ducks are guaranteed kid-pleaser.  It's the primary reason, I think, why we return to Granada Park in north-central(-ish) Phoenix.
Bring three or four slices of bread, and your children are amused for at least ten minutes. The ducks are well accustomed to the public feedings, and they start swimming to the shore of the lower pond long before you actually reach the shore of the pond.

But this isn't DuckMapped, it's PlayMapped, so eventually we make our way across the bridge separating the lower and upper pond up to the playground.  It is, like many playgrounds in the city of Phoenix, filled with playground equipment from Miracle Recreation Equipment.  Unlike playground equipment in other parts of the country, our equipment in the Valley of the Sun tends to feature drab colors -- they're going to fade anyway, so why do a rainbow of colors?  The playground got an overhaul in, what, 2008, maybe?  It features the standard big kids' set, small kids' set, swings (four toddler, four big kid) and a climbing wall.

I've always like these two playground features.  On the left, those tethered mushrooms require more balance and dexterity than you would otherwise expect -- I keep encouraging Little Boy Blue but he doesn't like them so much.  And I find the "rock climbing slide" pure genius.  Not that it stops kids from climbing up the other slides (or from sliding down this one), but at least it's a novel idea (or was at one point).  Also, there's sand.  The suburbs seem to prefer the bouncy play surfaces, but Phoenix, they like the sand.  (Even now, they rake it in the morning, like it's some massive sand trap.)

For parents, it's not a perfect park.  Insufficient shade and seating are the primary culprits, and even in winter when it's not so hot, that lack of shade and seating are an annoyance (many of prefer to just sit under the trees nearby the playground).  It's a neighborhood playground, but it is less than a mile drive off of a major freeway artery, so it's not a bad choice if you're passing through.  The park gets crowded on pretty Phoenix days, though.

But as playground parks go, it's a perfectly nice one.  Just remember to bring some bread.

What: Granada Park
Where: 6505 N. 20th St. / Phoenix, AZ 85016 (map)
Parking: Parking lots adjacent to park, free; street parking along the park when lots are full (which they often get to be).  Served by bus.
Amenities: There's a bathroom, but it's of barely passable quality.  Also, in a neighborhood, so no services nearby.
Bottom Line: Relatively new playground equipment, so-so shade.  But did I mention the ducks?