A newspaper article from a few weeks back has me reflecting on park design and how often the designs become all about the play equipment and less about the space. The article talked about a park in Sydney that had previously been open space, which after a recent development, pieces of play equipment were added and a “playground” created. The equipment included a flying fox (and I love these!) and a swing which locals describe as a “flying saucer”. The addition of this equipment, as close to homes as 20m has resulted in some negative press about the space. Residents have been “crying for rain on the weekend” just so children won’t attend the park because the screaming from them on the equipment has become unbearable. Firstly it’s sad that the residents feel this way about children having fun, but then if you count out 20m from your loungeroom and then imagine a flying fox there, you can start to see some issues in the location of this equipment. Parks should always be designed in consultation with residents and surrounding businesses and the community as a whole. The idea though that play equipment is always needed in a park is an adult concept that children just don’t have. As adults we perceive that children aren’t playing unless they are on some type of manufactured equipment when that’s just not the case. Play takes many forms and if Councils could integrate their policies and provision of open space with an understanding of children’s play then parks would not just become play equipment venues.
This leads on to my reading about some industrial design awards of which Kompan won for their new type of play equipment which has melded technology with the need to go outdoors (their words not mine). Play equipment where you press buttons, interface with screens and basically bring technology into the playground. WHY? Why does technology have to be in the playground? Children spend so much time as it is sitting at computers using consoles, clicking mice and staring at screens do they really need to do that outside? I know Kompan is quite a respected play equipment supplier but I get so frustrated when I see these companies trying to use the outdoors and in effect nature, as a way to manipulate that adult perception of children’s play I mentioned above. By trying to bring that technological bent to their equipment they subtly manipulate parents into thinking that children “playing” with this equipment is good for them. Is it better than bushwalking, imaginary play, rocks and boulders and basically the simplicity of nature? I doubt it.
Finally, this week a landscape architect from a local Council when reviewing one of my designs mentioned that when constructing sandpits, creek beds, etc with rocks/sandstone they needed to have absolutely no gaps between them. As no rock is the same I thought this might be difficult but I asked the reason why – the reply – because the gaps would encourage spiders and insects!! I really didn’t have the heart to tell her that was kind of the idea!!