Parks, Play, and People: Equity and Community in Recreation

by Missy Benson, ASLA

The joint meeting of the Children’s Outdoor Environments and Parks & Recreation Professional Practice Networks (PPNs) in Philadelphia / image: EPNAC
The joint meeting of the Children’s Outdoor Environments and Parks & Recreation Professional Practice Networks (PPNs) in Philadelphia / image: EPNAC

The 2018 Children’s Outdoor Environments PPN Meeting in Review

The ASLA Annual Meeting and EXPO’s joint meeting of the Children’s Outdoor Environments and Parks & Recreation Professional Practice Networks (PPNs), which offered attendees 1.0 PDH, focused on the topic of “Parks, Play, and People: Equity and Community in Recreation” with short presentations by, from left right in the photo above: Joy Kuebler, ASLA, Joy Kuebler Landscape Architect, PC; Andrew Spurlock, FASLA, Spurlock Landscape Architects; and Diane Jones Allen, ASLA, The University of Texas at Arlington and DesignJones, LLC. (For a recap of all PPN events that took place during the meeting, see the overall PPN Live in Review Field post.)

We measure success at our events when we have a great turnout of people interested in our topics—and indeed we had standing room only during our joint event in Philadelphia! Children’s Outdoor Environments PPN leadership was well represented among the 70+ attendees (and several attendees also signed up to join the PPN leadership team!). Here is a summary of the three presentations that took place.

Diane Jones Allen spoke about “The Challenge of Park Equity in Communities with Environmental Challenges,” including Sankofa Wetland Park in New Orleans’ Lower Ninth Ward. Diane explained the technique “Mining the Indigenous” as described in Design as Democracy to bring together community knowledge typically overlooked and left unmined, to the detriment of projects. For example, local residents shared extensive knowledge of the Bayou Bienvenue Wetland Triangle from childhoods spent in these wetlands. Contributions from locals provided a better understanding of the fauna, including alligators, snakes, and insects, and flora, such as edible plants and the historical uses of existing vegetation. Diane described examples of bio-retention facilities designed to alleviate neighborhood flooding during heavy rainfall, with native vegetation and walking paths to promote educational and recreational opportunities for community residents and other users.

Diane Jones Allen, ASLA, presenting during the Children’s Outdoor Environments / Parks & Recreation PPN Meeting / image: EPNAC

Andrew Spurlock provided a presentation of his work with the Ocean Discovery Institute in San Diego, the San Diego Unified School District, San Diego Parks and Recreation, and the Canyonlands City Heights/Azalea Park Community. The goals of the canyon project and partnerships were to empower kids to play together, explore nature, and provide access for the entire community. Andrew’s presentation explored the variety of teamwork required to create interest in a canyon that is now user-friendly to the neighborhood and local schools. We learned how this green space was designed by members of the community, as well as the ways that play and recreation can support equity.

Q&A with the speakers / image: EPNAC

Joy Kuebler presented about “Using Play as Equity Tool in Public Engagement and Placemaking Through Play.” Joy provided a definition of play by Stuart Brown, MD—how play shapes the brain, opens the imagination, and invigorates the soul! Joy also spoke about how introducing play concepts during public engagement drives success. The main messages about obtaining community input included: go to where the people are (traditional planning models like town hall meetings no longer work). She shared examples of public engagement including bringing community members all together to see a site, in real time, and using collaborative problem solving and idea generation by walking, biking, or boating (depending upon the site location) with team building games along the way. Joy spoke about how her experiences of bringing play into park planning builds trust, empathy, and collaboration.

Children’s Outdoor Environments / Parks & Recreation PPN Meeting attendees / image: EPNAC
Children’s Outdoor Environments / Parks & Recreation PPN Meeting attendees / image: EPNAC

Your Children’s Outdoor Environments PPN leadership would like to remind our members that play in every form for all ages elevates engagement, jump starts imagination and creativity, and cultivates empathy. Every opportunity to bring play into the lives of others is key to our mission!

Missy Benson, ASLA, is an Officer of the Children’s Outdoor Environments Professional Practice Network (PPN) and a past president of the Virginia Chapter of ASLA. She provides research for pop up and inclusive play design and is a co-author of the recently published Design & Play: Imagination Needs Places to Thrive, published by the Design Museum Foundation.

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