Climbing in Playgrounds

image: IDS

image: IDS

A necessary requirement of children’s outdoor environments is a provision for gross motor planning and muscle development. Climbers have long been a method of providing the various movements to accomplish this development. Recent advances in technology and building materials, however, have opened up additional opportunities. Andris Zobs and Ian Glas are leaders in the industry of artificial climbing structures, having built and installed many of these structures in playground environments. They have kindly written the following article to highlight the need for climbing in play environments.
–Chad Kennedy, ASLA, Children’s Outdoor Environments PPN Co-Chair

As any parent knows, children climb anything, from the dresser drawers to the first time they awkwardly wrap themselves around a tree trunk. Teenagers scale walls and adults seek out remote mountaintops. When we are at our strongest and most confident, we climb.

The Outdoor Industry Association puts total participation in rock climbing in the United States at 4.7 million to 6.9 million people, and the Climbing Wall Association estimates that there are 600 climbing-specific gyms and thousands of climbing walls within larger facilities and camps.

While the popularity of rock climbing seems to have peaked in 2002 to 2006, there has been an explosive growth of nature-themed climbing in playgrounds and parks. With improvements in the manufacture of climbing structures and sculptures, accessibility and safety has improved, making climbing a sport with widespread appeal across age groups and skill levels.

Playground designers and manufacturers have recognized that traditional post and deck structures and climbing events don’t fully satisfy the urge to climb that we all feel. In recent years, the industry has stepped forward to meet the challenge with climbing sculptures that have added a new dimension to playground activity, with more realistic surfaces, more challenging athleticism, and creativity in forms. New technology has enabled complete creative freedom; climbers are no longer limited to walls and boulders. Playground designers can now create expressive sculptures that combine the health benefits of climbing while also providing a venue for imaginative play.

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The Future of Aging

Russian River and Ocean 12x4 image: Annette Heacox

Russian River and Ocean 12×4
image: Annette Heacox

“The young and even the middle-aged can’t truly appreciate what it is to be old.” (-) “The sheer aloneness and inescapability of it. A different shore. You have gone somewhere and you aren’t coming back.” 

Why do we run away from aging in our current society? Aging is an unavoidable reality. Regardless of what we do to our bodies and minds, we age. But can racing against aging become embracing our golden years?

In this admittedly non-academic post, I share hopes and fears and also my research on the topic of aging. A few years ago, I wrote a questionnaire targeting the elderly population. Aging should concern us all, and we urgently need new attitudes and answers.

I want to challenge that vision of running away from aging. I’ll brainstorm some answers and propose new ideas partially based on the questionnaire I addressed to seniors. We are tomorrow’s elderly; there is always hope.

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Spaces Every Child Should Experience

Favorite childhood memories are often associated with a special place, whether a beloved neighborhood park, a family vacation to somewhere unforgettable, or your own backyard. When we asked PPN members about what spaces every child should experience, the responses we received reflected the outsize impact that outdoor settings of all scales—from playing in the woods to visiting the Grand Canyon—can have on a child.

Here are a few specific locations that were mentioned:

  • Central Park, New York City
  • City Museum, St. Louis
  • Disneyland
  • Grand Canyon, Arizona
  • Golden Gate Park, San Francisco
  • The National Mall, Washington, D.C.
  • Yosemite Valley, California

But above all, the central theme that arose from members’ responses was that children should experience natural spaces. Here are a few suggestions and comments that focus not on particular destinations, but on kinds of experiences and places that all children should have access to and be able to enjoy.

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Allegheny County’s Monitored Green Roof

Foreground: intensive green roof and microcosm trials image: John K. Buck, Civil & Environmental Consultants, Inc.

Foreground: intensive green roof and microcosm trials
image: John K. Buck, Civil & Environmental Consultants, Inc.

To serve as an educational model demonstrating the benefits of green roofs and the technology imbedded in green roofs, Allegheny County, Pennsylvania decided to install a green roof exhibiting four types of green roof technologies:

  1. Intensive – 8-12 inches of lightweight engineered growing medium with shrubs and plants requiring that rooting depth.
  2. Semi-intensive – 6 inches of lightweight engineered growing medium with the ability to grow plants and shrubs with that depth.
  3. Roll out mat – a pre-grown sedum mat set on 4 inches of lightweight engineered growing medium, providing instant coverage.
  4. Tray system – pre-grown sedum established in lightweight engineered growing medium trays.

By exhibiting these four green roof technologies, it is noted that the substantial additional weight of the intensive and semi-intensive systems requires close examination of the structural integrity of a roof, whereas the mat and tray systems allow green roof application on roofs with less significant weight restrictions. In addition to the visual display, monitoring systems were installed to prove the benefits of green roofs. The performance of this green roof is amazing and noteworthy to share in the scheme of green technology.

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The Emerging Role of Millennials

image: Ryan Deane

image: Ryan Deane

If your firm looks anything like mine it won’t be hard for you to paint this picture for yourself. A bustling open-office floor plan with large semi-private work stations for senior associates and principals along the windowed perimeter (usually vacant). Cookie cutter cubicles with low walls filled with a production army of 20-30 year olds, rocking headphones while heating up their keyboards, and an inner core of collaboration spaces filled with a mix of employees laboring over the latest design ideas – it won’t be long before these headphones (and their millennial owners) move towards those window seats.

Millennials Can “Just Play”

Back in the 80’s while many of our bosses were likely out at a Journey concert, we started training. Okay okay, at the time we didn’t know it was training, but opening an Atari, Nintendo, or Sega on your birthday was like getting your first PC. Then in the 90’s we sat down for hours on end to the ‘cutting edge’ graphics of “SimCity 2000,” with only a keyboard and mouse to sculpt the landscape before planning a city… On second thought, it really was training! Between hours of playing “Oregon Trail” we wrote our first email from our 4th grade classroom on an Apple IIe. We typed our first book reports and inserted clip art in middle school, and by the time college rolled around we had early versions of AutoCAD, Photoshop, and GIS as part of our daily vocabulary.

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The 2015 HALS Challenge

Skyline Park, HALS CO-1, Denver, CO image: Library of Congress, Historic American Buildings Survey/Historic American Engineering Record/Historic American Landscapes Survey Collection

Skyline Park, HALS CO-1, Denver, CO
image: Library of Congress, Historic American Buildings Survey/Historic American Engineering Record/Historic American Landscapes Survey Collection

Documenting Modernist Landscapes

“How do you design an environment where man can grow intellectually…a total environment that encourages and develops the self expression of every individual in it?”
–Robert E. Marvin

The Historic American Landscapes Survey (HALS) was created in 2000 to document our country’s dynamic landscapes. Much progress has been made in identifying cultural landscapes but more is needed to document these designed and vernacular places.

For the 6th annual HALS Challenge, we invite you to document modernist landscapes unique to your region of the country. During the mid-20th century, landscape architects responded to the regional environment using design as an agent of social change, creating human scale space, modern forms, and sculptural compositions, which were intended to be experienced rather than simply viewed.

The designs of renowned modernist landscape architects like Church, Eckbo, Kiley, Halprin, and Rose face developmental threats despite growing national awareness. The lesser known works of many other regional designers must be documented to encourage their preservation.

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Creative Commons

Field sketch image: Jules Bruck

Field sketch
image: Jules Bruck

Fostering Collaboration & Innovation

Have you ever read a book so compelling and inspirational it becomes your go-to holiday gift? This past year I shared with many colleagues and loved ones a book I found both captivating and insightful, with the hope that they would not only enjoy the eloquent prose and educational essays, but it would also cause them to reconsider the way they perceive the world outside.

For me, The Forest Unseen: A Year’s Watch in Nature, by David George Haskell, has actually achieved a status well beyond that of a holiday gift by becoming the basis for my spring Field Sketching course at the University of Delaware. The course focuses on the power of observation to develop design-thinking habits of mind, and on freehand sketching techniques used to portray objects and landscape subjects. In addition to fine arts-based studio techniques, students have an opportunity to demonstrate their sketching and observational skills each week as they hike to the woods to sit quietly and reflect on the forest details. Insights from The Forest Unseen and instructor prompts will lead the student explorations of their own personal one square meter of space in the nearby White Clay Creek nature preserve.

In Haskell’s book, the area of observation is referred to as a mandala. In their personal mandala, students will sit quietly for 2 hours/week observing and documenting the space. In doing so, they will help me answer the questions: How might extended observation of one place change a student’s awareness, perception, or appreciation of the place? How might doing so change their perception of living and non-living things that periodically occupy the space? How might this translate to more environmentally thoughtful behavior and designs?

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