Make-Believe: Inspiring Imaginative Play in Public Play Spaces

Concessions climber at McClatchy Park in Sacramento, CA, designed by Callander Associates image: Billy Hustace
Concessions climber at McClatchy Park in Sacramento, CA, designed by Callander Associates
image: Billy Hustace

In the hands of a child, a cardboard box can transcend its humble origins to become a racecar, a fort, a cave, a classroom…anything the child can imagine. Similarly, the landscapes that we design for children are the stage on which innumerable dramas, comedies, games, and interactions can unfold, and designing spaces that promote imaginative play can help to support children’s physical, emotional, and social growth. Play that benefits physical health has been a particular focus in the face of increasing levels of childhood obesity—and for good reason, since the importance of movement and activity is so well-documented as to be irrefutable.

While few would argue against the importance of these efforts, we would do children a disservice if we designed spaces meant only to develop their strength and balance at the expense of the emotional and social skills such as creativity, empathy, and cooperation. So while traditional active play is still the default mode for most publicly-funded projects, a thoughtfully designed active play space can also serve to promote imaginative or dramatic play. Moreover, play spaces that stimulate the imagination produce a sense of wonder and possibility, allowing children to create experiences that are different every time and encouraging repeat visits.

Imaginative Play

Imaginative play—a term used here to include pretend play, sociodramatic play, and other forms of symbolic or “make-believe” play [1, 2, 3]—is when children imagine a situation, take on a role, and act out the situation (either alone or in groups) through words or actions [4]. By acting outside the constraints of reality, children are able to deal with problems and fears, develop problem-solving and critical thinking skills, and experiment with if-then situations.

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Future Viable Plant Palettes for Metropolitan Areas, Part 6

Figure 1: Unmowed HABITURF® at the Bush Presidential Center in Dallas, Texas image: David Hopman
Figure 1: Unmowed HABITURF® at the Bush Presidential Center in Dallas, Texas
image: David Hopman

Part 6: Native Plant Turf Polycultures

Part 5 of this series introduced three relevant strategies at the new George W. Bush Presidential Center that were employed to select future viable species of plants. The first two, using local plant consultants and recreating a local prairie ecosystem, are addressed in part 5. This month’s post will focus on the third strategy, using an aesthetically qualified native polyculture for large areas of turf at the Bush Center.

The idea of using a palette of indigenous (actual native) plants is currently largely the purview of a small, relatively sophisticated cadre of native plant specialists and enthusiasts. Reconciling two points of view—the desire to restore complete ecological ecosystems with their environmental and ecological benefits, and using native and other adapted plants with a more traditional design approach, requires a reconceptualization of natural plant communities within a cultural context.

This difficult problem must first be addressed at the macro scale by finding the most appropriate native ecosystems, within the overall biomes, that are most practical and useful for the extraction of species for a new environment, the ‘new nature’ created by development conditions in metropolitan areas. It must then be addressed at the micro scale by constituting the details of this new synthetic environment, the particular plant palette, so that it meets biological, cultural, personal, and environmental goals and achieves a better balance of the three areas of aesthetics, environment, and ecology. The native turf polyculture used at the Bush Presidential Center is a good example of using both of these strategies.

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Landscape Performance at Mississippi Heritage Museum

Figure 1: Green Roof at Oktibbeha Heritage Museum image: Megan Bean
Figure 1: Green roof at Oktibbeha Heritage Museum
image: Megan Bean

The Oktibbeha County Heritage Museum was founded in 1976 in Starkville, Mississippi, just a half-mile from both the historic downtown area and Mississippi State University, to preserve, publicize, and educate the public about the rich history of the region. The building itself is housed in a renovated railroad depot first built in 1874, but renovations initiated in 2009 by the Departments of Landscape Architecture and Architecture at Mississippi State University sought to make the museum a demonstration case to the alternative water management and habitat creation practices being implemented around the country to incorporate green infrastructure into the urban setting.

When the “Rain Garden” project was finished in spring 2013, a green roof pavilion, cistern, and infiltration areas had been installed on the 0.5-acre site to retain and clean rainwater. The purpose of this report is to document the ways in which the Rain Garden project has benefited the Oktibbeha Heritage Museum and the surrounding areas, a measurement termed Landscape Performance. Four distinct benefits have been explored: environmental, social, economic, and educational. These benefits were compared before and after the Rain Garden installation.

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2016 Digital Technology Survey

image: Ryan Deane
image: Ryan Deane

As a professional, do you ever wonder what your competitors are using for software? As a student, are you concerned with your technical abilities when it’s time for finding a job? Professors, are you wondering how your students stack up against your peer institutions? If you’re interested in any of these questions, the 2016 Digital Technology survey is worth the 5 minutes it will take you!

In an effort to better understand what existing and emerging technology is being used professionally, and taught in accredited institutions, the ASLA Digital Technology Professional Practice Network (PPN) has assembled a survey to poll faculty, students, and landscape architecture professionals.

The intent of the 2016 survey is to create a central knowledge base of the software and hardware being used throughout the world of landscape architecture. In addition, a series of questions have been added to analyze the rising cost of technology and the effect on profits and education. We are asking professionals to estimate their annual software budgets, and students and faculty to provide information on software and hardware that is either required or available at their accredited institution.

Be on the lookout for the results, which will also be included in Landscape Architecture Magazine’s upcoming “TECH” column. Please use the following link to take the survey:

ASLA/LAM Technology Survey

Thank you in advance for your time.

by Ryan Deane, ASLA and Matthew Wilkins, Associate ASLA, Digital Technology Co-Chairs

Your Brain on Water

Reflection on water at the Chicago Botanic Garden image: Jack Carman
Reflection on water at the Chicago Botanic Garden
image: Jack Carman

Blue Mind: The Surprising Science That Shows How Being Near, In, On, or Under Water Can Make You Happier, Healthier, More Connected, and Better at What You Do
Wallace J. Nichols

When I heard writer and sea turtle expert Wallace J. Nichols speak in Sausalito last summer, I was delighted by how much of what he said resembled the science behind why nature is good for our health and well-being. He quoted much of the same research we landscape architects do when promoting healthcare and therapeutic gardens. I knew I had to read his book, and I was amazed by the range of information that he brings together as both a scientist and an unabashed ocean lover in his book Blue Mind.

Blue Mind is an enjoyable read about the numinous experience of water, coupled with an urgent message to wake up to what is ‘hidden in plain sight’ in the hopes that we humans can transform the way we treat our planet’s resources. Nichols shares a strong emotional connection to this liquid element, as do many people who are willing to pay a lot of money to travel to beautiful beaches for vacations and spend top dollar for the house with a view of the water. For those of us who are curious to know what’s up with that from a scientific evidence point of view, this book explains the psychology and physiology of why we want and need the benefits associated with spending time in the presence of water.

In Blue Mind, Nichols makes an appeal to a broad range of people who might not feel convinced that emotion alone is a serious enough reason to cherish and protect this basic resource. He demonstrates the phenomenon of how people are attracted to water with cultural data, and how we are physically wired to benefit from the symbolism, physicality, color, sound, and essence of water as we encounter it in the environment, citing recent neuroscience studies and plenty of footnotes to point the reader to explore the topic further. Be prepared to dive deep from the comfort of your reading chair.

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WILA Interview Series: Mentorship, Part 2

image: iStock © Steve Debenport
image: iStock © Steve Debenport

The Women in Landscape Architecture Professional Practice Network (WILA PPN)’s focus for 2015-2016 is an interview series developed around being women landscape architects, life/work balance, and mentors. The WILA PPN’s co-chairs and officers developed a set of 17 questions, then searched out willing landscape architects and began the interview process. The following is a continuation on the theme of mentorship and an in-depth look at the responses to two questions posed to our interviewees.

These questions continue the conversation about how mentors influence us professionally, specifically asking what the interviewees’ mentors provided them and how their mentor needs may or may have not changed throughout their careers. Generally, what one gets out of their mentor relationships is very personal and different for everyone, but everyone that mentioned having a mentor was definitely influenced by that individual. There was a general theme of seeing the respondents grow from being mentored to becoming a mentor over time.

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Calling Student & Emerging Professionals

image: ASLA
image: ASLA

ASLA is excited to introduce the Online Learning Student & Emerging Professional SPOTLIGHT mini-series giving Student and Associate ASLA members the opportunity to work with a Professional Practice Network (PPN) Mentor in creating a presentation for ASLA’s Online Learning series. This is a great opportunity for students and emerging professionals to share eye-opening research, or dive into a little design exploration over the summer.

The mini-series Call for Proposals is now open and will close on Monday, May 16.

To submit a proposal:

1.  Check out the SPOTLIGHT mini-series Call for Proposals form.
2.  Review the PPNs that will be serving as hosts and mentors (Children’s Outdoor Environments, International Practice, Land Use Planning, & Women in Landscape Architecture). Which PPN does your topic or research best fit?
3.  Once you have your description and objectives finalized, fill out the form with all the necessary information and submit!
4.  Selected participants will be notified in early June. At this time, you will be introduced to your PPN Mentor.
5.  Collaborate with your mentor! Presentations will take place in August.

We look forward to seeing your research, technical analysis, large scale ideas, or whatever else you may bring to the table to share with your fellow landscape architecture professionals! For questions or comments, please email

Favorite Places on Campus

Part of the crowd at the Memorial Union on the campus of the University of Wisconsin-Madison, on graduation weekend, 2012 image: Richard Hurd via Flickr
Part of the crowd at the Memorial Union on the campus of the University of Wisconsin-Madison, on graduation weekend, 2012
image: Richard Hurd via Flickr

In a 2013 survey of ASLA’s Professional Practice Networks (PPNs), the questions focused on the theme of favorite spaces. Throughout the survey, there were a number of universities and colleges mentioned in nearly every category, from great spaces to linger to technically innovative projects. Whether you’re currently a student or faculty member, or if you just feel nostalgic for when you were in school from time to time, let’s take a look at PPN members’ favorite spots on campus. Did your alma mater get mentioned?

Favorite iconic space

  • The University of Pennsylvania’s Locust Walk and College Green
    “It’s a great place for socializing in terms of scale and space. Walking into the area always feels like coming home.”

Great space to move through

  • Louisiana State University’s Quadrangle
  • Michigan State University’s campus
  • The University of Washington’s Botanic Gardens and Arboretum

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