The Evolution of Parks

The Evolution of Parks

Fri Jun 29 2018By David Banks 4 min read

Designing Parks for Play

It’s almost a right of passage for each generation to smugly look down at the one below them and claim

‘children these days don’t play anymore.’

A case closed response that places  all the responsibility on young people. Yet I’ve never seen a teenager  install skate stoppers. Neither have I seen them put up no ball games  signs. I am yet to witness a child campaign for less free time and more  homework. These are the same ‘adults’ (I am generalizing here) that  complain about the ludicrous levels of health and safety, don’t play  and, the most irritable of all, design shit play parks. The finger of  blame is consistently aimed at the youth but the finger is pointing in  the wrong direction. A lack of play in our society stems from  foundational issues. Caused by those who came before us.

Defining Play

‘Engage in activity for enjoyment and recreation rather than a serious or practical purpose.’

English Oxford dictionary

It’s easy to apply this definition to  play parks, a play arena we all experience, and see a perfect fit.  Riddled with slides, roundabouts, seesaws, and swings we end up spending  more time sitting down than moving our bodies. Then to access these  limited experiences we must ascend a small set of steps rather than  being presented with any kind of climbing or challenge. Of course, for a  brief time, this can be fun but just like all things that give instant  gratification they are nutritiously void.

Time Shits on all our Slides

As soon as our young people hit the  teenage years (often way before) they are fed up with their local park.  The attractions such as the big swing, for example, carries far less  weight or mystique once you have done it a few times. Another folly to  single-function pieces of equipment is that they can be disused by a  community simply through the weight of a single action or urban myth.  Take the big slide in Bridgeton, Glasgow for example. When teaching some  locals parkour in the area I asked why none of the young people use the  slide and was told that they had heard someone “took a shite” on it and  that was that.

Back to our generational angle on  improving play parks, a clear issue is that no one passed a certain age  really cares. There is a fleeting moment in early life that playing in a  park is a fun thing to do and that’s a problem. If we think about play  parks in line with our definition of play then they lack ‘a serious or  practical purpose’ then it’s easy to see why they quickly become  redundant.

Playing out used to be a feature of every child’s day, children now spend
just four hours a week playing out. (UK)

Children’s Commissioner, Playing Out, 2018

How to Play Better

A few simple changes can be made to  challenge this. To change the image of ‘play parks’ and redefine them  for all ages they need a meaningful purpose for everyone who steps in  them. The popular phrase ‘never leave the playground’ is more important  than ever to create a healthy society but to keep that playground  interesting we have to implement more logic like this;

Callum  Tips no. 139 – If you’re ever in charge of designing a gym or a Parkour  park make an absolute mess with random angles. Don’t design sections  with specific moves and challenges in mind. If you make an interesting  mess it’ll inspire interesting movement.

When commissioned to create a park  the client often wants you to primarily focus on parkour. This is great,  especially if your a traceur, but in order to create something truly  useful try not to think about it as a parkour park. Remind the client  that literally no matter what they build people will jump on it and that  you can aim for something higher.

Take Things One Step Further

Callum’s tip applies not only to  Parkour but all aspects of the parks you set out to create. Your goal  should be to create environments full of opportunities for play and  activity rather than prescribe specific activities or actions. The play  park should be a liminal space in which different disciplines and  activities co-exist and overlap to allow for innovation and promote  imagination from the users. It should be a puzzle that can be completed  in more than one way, every section should be for both everyone and no  one.

The recent trend of calisthenics  parks, plastic play arenas, and parkour parks are well-meaning and a  step in the right direction but they are exclusive to the communities  that use them. Before parkour parks were built we jumped on regular  parks, before we could use a dipping station at the calisthenics parks  the corner of a rail or bike rack would do and when we out in our  formative years the most exciting play spaces for us are the ones we  found as a community and not the ones defined for us.

Bollards in rotterdam, not a park

Into the New

So next time you are in charge of creating a park remember it doesn’t  need to be designed for a specific function. This doesn’t mean you  shouldn’t look at places where people move purposefully and creatively  and extract what is useful for your design. It just means thinking more openly about the potential needs of the users and how those needs can cross over.

Want to get in on the conversation? Here at Ukemi, we are thinking about the future of play. To get in on the conversation join our community group.