Home > Engineering Design, Parks and Recreation > Play Spaces: 10 Principles For Success

Play Spaces: 10 Principles For Success

Boulders+ a bench + a dose of intentional design = a space of wonderment.

Successful Playscapes

One recurring topic raised at last week’s parks and recreation workshop was creative, natural playscapes. It’s an approach to parkland development that focuses and invests in design before, perhaps more than, equipment. A park with a natural playscape aims to answer the question, “what type of place do we want to create?

Yesterday I came across Play England and their resource “Design for Play: A guide to creating successful play spaces(download the guide via the link). It’s comprehensive and filled with excellent ideas that apply observational studies to explain how we, children and adults, interact with public spaces. Even a “child’s play space” can needs to also function as a place where an adult feels welcomed and comfortable. Multigenerational park designs and functions were supported at last week’s workshop. Adults want to play with their children, not just be supervisors. And, if they don’t have children, they want to enjoy the space as well.

Play England’s guide begins with the 10 principles for designing play spaces that I’ll recommend to my fellow parks and recreation commissioners.

I’ll admit it, I had to double-check “bespoke.” It’s means custom-made and is another theme that residents are looking for in traverse City; places that are unique and not bought straight out of a catalog. The theme arose last week, during the bayfront planning and several other times this year.

It’s In The Design

Natural playscapes are sometimes challenged as being too expensive, but that isn’t necessarily the case. The expenses are largely upfront in paying for design; the more you invest in the right design and the right material, the more you can lessen the annual cost to keep up the space. It may even save a city money.

The investment is worth it for the benefits as well. The observations of children play reveals that creating spaces where the landscape IS THE playground allows the children to create their own play; self-created play tends to last longer and rarely repeats. Imagine children playing on a mound or a hill (like the image to the right) compared to a traditional slide where the children climb up one-way, slide down the next. How long does it take before they attempt to go up the wrong way? It didn’t take me long.

The money we invest in our parks and on recreational opportunities needs more intent to have greater impact. We can spend more, or less, and still end-up with a result that is unique to Traverse City and unique to specific parks. If play spaces are desired, Traverse City can do a lot by following some basic principles and challenging ourselves to think beyond the slide, swing-set and pre-fab one-generational playset.

  1. September 30, 2010 at 8:40 am

    I would love to see a natural playground in Traverse City. As someone who spends a lot of time at our playgrounds, I can confidently say (err, write) that this is often what happens… The kids play on the plastic equipment, slides, swings, etc. for a while then they ‘naturally‘ find their way to the edges, the margins, where the trees and rocks live. Or, the sand and the wood chips.

    It would be a great fit to have this kind of play space in our area. They’re sustainable and safe. And it’s what kids want, or so they tell us: Natural Playgrounds (PDF)

    For more photos of natural playgrounds, click here to visit a portfolio of places that the “Natural Playgrounds Company” developed.

  2. September 30, 2010 at 9:40 am

    Moms like you, Ashlea, will be instrumental in achieving these types of designs integrated into our parkland portfolio.

    Thank you for the links.

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