Book Review: Asphalt to Ecosystems

Asphalt to Ecosystems book coverimage: Sharon Danks
Asphalt to Ecosystems book cover
image: Sharon Danks

Asphalt to Ecosystems: Design Ideas for Schoolyard Transformation by Sharon Danks

The amount of published work addressing the design of children’s outdoor environments is slim, which made it a delight to hear that Sharon Danks had published a book on the design of schoolyards. She establishes herself as an authority on the subject in the first few pages of the book; she has visited over 200 schools in eight countries and worked with the San Francisco Unified School District to create green schoolyard plans for sixteen schools. Her schoolyard plan for Rosa Parks Elementary School is discussed in the previous post “It Takes a Village”.  Dinks also consults on schoolyard design through her own practice, Bay Tree Design, Inc. In short, she has the expertise.

The book is divided into five major parts. The first section focuses on first steps for designing and building a schoolyard, including design guidelines in the third chapter, which provide a meaningful reference point for landscape architects. The next two sections look at ecological tools and diversified play in the playground. They are organized by topics rather than by case studies. Some schoolyards appear several times under different topics and others appear just once. The fourth section discusses the finer points of schoolyard design and the last section looks at next steps for the reader.

Designers are included as a key part of the process, but the intended audience is wider, such as an interested school principal or a parent actively involved in the school.  Not all content in the book directly applies to landscape architects, but the sections that do not apply, such as school energy systems or maintenance, give valuable context to the design. The level of design detail included is more inspirational than technical with ideas shown through photographs rather than site plans or details. Nevertheless, this book authoritatively fills a missing gap in available resources for schoolyard design. It recently won an Honor Award in the Communication Category for the 2012 ASLA Professional Awards.


Danks, Sharon Gamson. Asphalt to Ecosystems: Design Ideas for Schoolyard Transformation. Oakland,      CA: New Village Press, 2010.

by Lisa Horne, Associate ASLA, is an associate at Kevin Sloan Studio in Dallas, Texas, and the co-chair of the ASLA Children’s Outdoor Environment PPN. She may be reached at: lh (at)

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