Creating a Space to Reflect, Heal, and Remember

by Valerie Bassett, ASLA

Park visitors using musical instruments
image: Valerie Bassett

The Quinterra Legacy Garden

Seven years after five university students were killed at a house party in Calgary, Alberta, a memorial park designed to honor them opened recently in the local South Glenmore Park. The design of the area, now known as the Quinterra Legacy Garden, was informed by sensitivities surrounding the planning process and shaped by the steps taken to support the families’ design vision for the creation of the park.

The tragedy happened in April 2014 on “Bermuda Shorts Day,” a time which used to be a celebration of the end of the university school year. After several years of mourning, in 2019, we were contacted by the Quinterra Group, set up by family and friends of those lost, to meet with them to understand their aspirations.

In short, the Group’s vision was for a peaceful, contemplative, and vibrant outdoor community space for people to be inspired, to heal, and to connect with nature. They also wanted it to be a special place to celebrate the students’ lives and bring a positive light to the tragedy. With each of the students being known for their love of music, art, and the community, this had to be at the core of the legacy garden.

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The Orchard at White Street Park

by Roger Grant, ASLA, PLA

Boy Scouts installing hammock posts at the Orchard at White Street Park, 2020 / image: Roger Grant

A Case Study in Community Orchard-Playground Design

In Suwanee, a small suburb north of Atlanta, Georgia, lies a one-acre public park combining edible fruiting plants with child-friendly play features. Suwanee has a small but popular parks network that includes a seven-acre site with an organically maintained community garden, stream, trails, and a lawn that was a former pasture. In 2012, a local landscape architect met with City staff to discuss the potential to convert the former pasture area into a new kind of park for the City—an “orchard-playground.” The concept was intended to combine the enjoyment of edible fruit with play features rooted in the natural playground movement. After several years of both volunteer- and employer-supported efforts, the City approved a final design, and the Orchard at White Street Park was constructed and officially opened in the fall of 2017.

The notion of a public orchard where fruit is grown for free harvest by the community is a logical extension of the community gardening movement that is increasingly being explored throughout the country. During the design process, there was little information regarding public orchards, but as of now, there are numerous efforts in Georgia and around the US. Some go by the name of “food forest,” which can be a combination of orchard and annual fruit and vegetable growing, and some follow the concept of “permaculture,” which relies on dynamic and symbiotic relationships between edible plants and their allies to develop a long lasting and self-sustaining harvest. While these concepts were explored during the design process, the planting design was simplified for the initial phase based on available budget and anticipated maintenance capacity. Thus, the outcome was creation of a combination of pathways, benches, fences, play features, lawn areas, and mulched fruit tree, shrub, and vine areas.

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An Interview with Patrick Barkham, Part 3

Children playing in the rain
image: Patrick Barkham

What follows is the final part of the interview that I had with Patrick Barkham, author of Wild Child: Coming Home to Nature. (Click to read Part 1 and Part 2.) We end the interview with some of his thoughts about designing for ‘wild children.’
– Amy Wagenfeld, PhD, OTR/L, SCEM, FAOTA, Affil. ASLA

Amy Wagenfeld (AW): What do you see as the most challenging issue that’s preventing children from fully embracing nature? While you have spoken about it in previous questions, let’s fully encapsulate it here.

Patrick Barkham (PB): What’s preventing children from engaging with nature in one word is: adults. We despair about our children being hooked on electronic screens and so forth, as if it’s their fault but it’s down to us adults and I feel the problems are incredibly deep rooted in society.

There are two or three really obvious and practical things in society that I think apply to North America as much as Britain. One is the increase in fear about stranger danger, that our children are unsafe unless we’ve got our eyes on them all the time. Good parenting has become synonymous with perpetual supervision, and we’ve failed to see that this is a very recent phenomenon. It wasn’t a standard that we demanded of our parents as recently as, say, the 1950s. So somehow, we’ve got to get out of that psychological bind.

There’s another problem though, which I think is much more rational, and that’s traffic on our roads. In Britain there isn’t an enormous amount of public space. Our streets and roads are public space, but they are so busy with cars now that it really isn’t safe for children to bike and play on the street, as they once did. An obvious solution, and I think this is happening in the States as well as Britain, is to make streets more shared spaces and have car free Sundays on streets. Neighborhoods can potentially make this happen, particularly if you live on suburban estates with roads that don’t lead anywhere. Again, it’s up to us adults to better regulate our roads and to give children some rights on them, as well as to our car drivers. There’s a brilliant, very elderly sociologist in Britain named Mayer Hillman. He pointed out that we’ve prioritized the rights of car drivers over the rights of one of the most vulnerable groups in society, our children.

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An Interview with Patrick Barkham, Part 2

Children playing in nature
image: Patrick Barkham

Welcome back to the second part of my interview with Patrick Barkham, author of Wild Child: Coming Home to Nature. (Click here to read the first part, published last week.) We pick up the conversation by looking at the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic and its effect on children and their families’ connections with nature.
– Amy Wagenfeld, PhD, OTR/L, SCEM, FAOTA, Affil. ASLA

Amy Wagenfeld (AW): As we continue to navigate through the current pandemic, what are your thoughts about connecting children and their families with nature? And, have you had any new ideas or thoughts emerge as a result of the lockdowns and restrictions that we’re experiencing?

Patrick Barkham (PB): The thing that I’ve seen is perhaps small and off point, but we in Britain had our schools shut for more than a term, so almost half a year of our schools being shut and learning either not being provided at all or via online lessons at home. It was a really obvious point to me that in the depths of the pandemic, even in the worst moments of the curve, we could have still provided schooling for our children if we had moved learning outdoors. There was some slightly hopeful talk of that in Britain at the start of the first lockdown and nothing’s really happened with it. The government hasn’t made it a priority or enabled it or funded it in schools.

Understandably, hard-pressed, under-resourced schools haven’t been able to deliver outdoor learning in any enhanced way, and indeed in most schools, there has been less outdoor learning since the pandemic struck than before because teachers have had to focus back on the apparent, key maths and English and so forth that they’ve missed out on. Maths and English can be taught outdoors equally well as indoors. I’ve met some inspiring teachers who are teaching very conventional hard maths and science and English outdoors and getting better results for the children. The children are outdoors and they’re able to concentrate and focus much better when they’re outdoors than when they’re cramped in a noisy, busy classroom, which for some children can lead to sensory overload. My answer would be that the pandemic has been a real opportunity to massively expand outdoor school for everyone.

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An Interview with Patrick Barkham, Author of Wild Child: Coming Home to Nature

Patrick Barkham and his family
image: © Marcus Garrett

I recently had the pleasure of having an extensive Zoom interview with Patrick Barkham. He is an award-winning author and natural history writer for The Guardian. Patrick’s books include The Butterfly Isles, Badgerlands, Coastlines, Islander, and Wild Child. He has edited an anthology of British nature writing, The Wild Isles, and is currently writing a biography of nature writer and wild swimmer Roger Deakin. Patrick lives in Norfolk, England, with his family. What follows will be a three-part series of our conversation about Wild Child that, in all actuality, reads more like a story than an interview.
– Amy Wagenfeld, PhD, OTR/L, SCEM, FAOTA, Affil. ASLA

Amy Wagenfeld (AW): Patrick, thanks so much for making time to speak with me today on behalf of the ASLA Children’s Outdoor Environments Professional Practice Network (PPN). Let’s start with this question. Would you please tell us what your favorite place in nature is and what makes it special?

Patrick Barkham (PB): My favorite place in nature is a beach in Norfolk in England called Wells-Next-the-Sea. It’s a small port on the varied marshy North coast and next to it, about a mile beyond over the marshes is the sea, and I love it because it has an enormous golden sandy beach, and sand dunes and pine woods behind it.

It’s very reminiscent of beaches on the East coast of North America and in its scale, a place where you can go and just find peace and space, both of which are two things at a kind of premium in today’s world. It’s also this vast arena of freedom for children, where they can run free and enjoy themselves. Obviously, it’s a place very rich in nature, but for us humans it’s the blank canvas on which we can play and create. My children love drawing in the sand or building the classic motif castle as the tide comes in over the sand. There’s just no end to things that you can do in this environment by engaging peacefully with it.

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In the Flow: Loose Parts Play, Take Two

image: Nathalie Aluisi

Having enjoyed collaborating on our first loose parts play post last month, bi-coastal photos continue to be shared within the Children’s Outdoor Environments Professional Practice Network (PPN) leadership team. As the weather improves and we head swiftly towards summer, here is hoping that we see many more children (and those of us who are still children at heart) having lots of unstructured and creative fun with loose parts play. Enjoy this second photo series and please consider how loose parts play opportunities can be safely programmed into your projects.

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In the Flow: Loose Parts Play

Playing in nature
image: Nari Chung

In 1971, architect and artist Simon Nicholson introduced the concept of loose parts in his article “The Theory of Loose Parts: How NOT to Cheat Children.” In the article, Mr. Nicholson described loose parts as materials, natural or manmade, that can be used in different ways for children to manipulate, experiment with, create and invent with, and generally do whatever they want with them. Further described, there are no set directions that accompany loose parts play, so they are limited only by safety and any existing environmental constraints and the far reaches of childrens’ imagination (Neill, 2013).

Loose parts are well suited for solitary and social play. The bottom line is, while further research is needed, what we do know is that loose parts play appears to enhance active and unstructured play (Houser, et al., 2016). Take a look at some of the images that our Professional Practice Network (PPN) leadership team compiled of children engaging in loose play in the woods, on the playground, at the shore, and some of the projects they have left behind for others to enjoy. Please feel free to share some of your favorite images with us, in the comments below or by email.

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More Research Needed: Trail Access and Use for Youth from Under-Resourced Communities

by Mike Hill, ASLA

Aerial view of the 606 in Chicago
ASLA 2020 Professional Urban Design Honor Award. The 606, Chicago, Illinois. Michael Van Valkenburgh Associates, Inc.. / image: MVVA

The recently published paper, “Identification of Effective Programs to Improve Access to and Use of Trails among Youth from Under-Resourced Communities: A Review” is a collaboration between researchers from National Institutes of Health, US Department of Transportation, Centers for Disease Control, USDA Forest Service, and Furman University in Greenville, SC. In addition to evaluating the effectiveness of programs to increase access to trails and trails use among youth from under-resourced communities, this paper also aims to identify:

  • relationships between physical activity/trail use and features of transportation systems and/or built environment and land use destinations,
  • benefits associated with trail use, and
  • barriers to trail use.

What We Found: The paper reviewed existing literature to identify, abstract, and evaluate studies related to programs to promote trail use among youth and youth from under-resourced communities. Eight studies used longitudinal or quasi-experimental designs to evaluate physical activity and neighborhood characteristics prospectively among adolescent girls, the effects of the path or trail development on physical activity behaviors of children, youth, and adults, marketing or media campaigns, and wayfinding and incremental distance signage to promote increased trail use.

No studies were located that evaluated programs designed to promote and increase trail use among youth, including youth from under-resourced communities. Few intervention studies using trails to increase physical activity among under-resourced youth were identified in this review. More studies need to be conducted using access to trails as interventions to promote trail-use among youth.

Many barriers to trail use are practical, such as costs, crime, lack of transportation. Others are psycho-social in nature—what trusted role models are introducing trail use? Is the “culture of the trail” welcoming to people from my background? How does being outdoors connect to my cultural identity, and through what activities? These are all challenges that impact youth and youth leaders’ decisions as much as institutional discrimination and its impact on recreation planning.

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An Invitation

image: Grace ‘n’ Chase Photography

The Children’s Outdoor Environments Professional Practice Network (PPN) is very pleased to share this blog post about the concept of inclusion and its connection with landscape architecture. A giant thank you to Natalie Mackay, Executive Director of Unlimited Play, for contributing this thought provoking and deeply compelling article. We invite you all to share your thoughts and ideas on this important topic.
– Amy Wagenfeld, PhD, OTR/L, SCEM, EDAC, FAOTA, Affil. ASLA

June 21, 2000. I received the invitation. No one else I had known or knew at that time received this invitation—just me. Membership in this ‘group’ required countless sleepless nights, endless appointments, and patience as I learned a new language. Tired and heartbroken, I found the determination to move forward in hopes of creating something better out of this life-changing circumstance.

My invitation to join the special needs community arrived the day my son Zachary was born and diagnosed with Pelizaeus-Merzbacher disease. Now, 20 years later, this disease has taken almost everything from Zach, except for his love for life and community. Throughout the last 20 years, I have learned that each one of you has more than likely received, or will receive, a similar invitation. Through family members, close friends, or serendipitous circumstances, you have also been invited to join this close community.

Unlimited Play is a nonprofit I founded in 2003 that is focused on the need to build inclusive playgrounds. More than simply giving children the chance to play was my germ of an idea of building a community focused on inclusion. I dreamed of a place where children would not just see a little boy in a wheelchair, but a new friend. I like to imagine that children who play on the playgrounds we have built grow up to become landscape architects with memories of friendships developed on a playground designed for all children, regardless of situation or circumstance. Those early friendships formed on the playground (that proverbial ‘sandbox’) then become the professional inspiration behind using inclusion as the foundation of each design, no matter what it is, because inclusion is everything and everyone.

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Making Mud Pies

by Missy Benson, ASLA, and Amy Wagenfeld, Affil. ASLA

Mud pie
Mud pie / image: Missy Benson

Expanding sensory opportunities in outdoor spaces for children is always important, but even more so during a pandemic like we are experiencing now. Even before the COVID-19 pandemic, most of us the United States lived as an indoor society with little connection with nature, especially in our low-income, under-served neighborhoods. Research tells us rich outdoor sensory experiences provide both stress release and can help build positive memories that last a lifetime—both are much needed now!

Stories of Therapeutic and Sensory Rich Outdoor Spaces

Living with Dementia
When my mother lived in a retirement community, I was lucky to work with Jack Carman, FASLA, of Spiezle Architectural Group, Inc. and Design for Generations, LLC, to provide a new sensory courtyard design for their residents and staff. When I interviewed staff to understand their needs of the space, I heard much more than the standard wish list of benches, shade, water feature, raised garden beds, and such. The staff, deeply dedicated to patients with dementia, also expressed how some of their patients lived only in the past—but with happy memories of being outdoors. Yet, others they observed lived in a painful past fraught with sad memories.

In talking with the nursing staff, I learned that most of them felt sure that the memories their patients have of being outdoors remain helpful throughout their lives, especially during times of stress. This same memory bank may serve all of us well. While there is little evidence to support whether, for individuals with dementia, limited past access to nature is associated with diminished happiness in older adulthood (now, this is a great idea for research!), there is ample evidence that for older adults, being in sensory rich gardens—touching, smelling, viewing, listening to, moving about, and tasting the plants—can evoke positive memories, improve health and well-being, and is restorative. A brief snapshot of references that supports these benefits follows at the end of this post. Please do feel free to share other pertinent articles with all of us in the comments section below.

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An Interview with David Kamp, FASLA: The Els for Autism Sensory Arts Garden

by Amy Wagenfeld, PhD, OTR/L, SCEM, FAOTA, Affil. ASLA

Els for Autism Sensory Arts Garden
Els for Autism Sensory Arts Garden. A spacious curved trellis serves as a welcoming transition from the elementary school to the garden. The adjacent activity space, an oval “lawn” of resilient paving, features a variety of fixed and movable seating choices. / image: Robin Hill (c)

An Interview with David Kamp, FASLA, LF, NA, Founding Partner of Dirtworks Landscape Architecture, PC

The Children’s Outdoor Environments Professional Practice Network (PPN) is honored to share the second part of my interview with David Kamp, FASLA, whose influential work is held in the highest esteem in the design, planning, and environmental psychology community. (Please see the first installment, covering what shaped David’s design philosophy, here.)

Representative Projects

Your portfolio of projects is amazing. Could you share your thoughts about several that provided you the foundation to design the Els for Autism Sensory Arts Garden?

I realize that much of what I have shared with you deals with health. Building health through a stronger connection with nature, which strengthens connections to ourselves, our communities, and the larger world, is the foundation to all our projects. That includes our work with children—whether it is designing a universal access trail system for an environmental education center, dealing with the trauma of neo-natal intensive care for parents and well siblings, a public garden that engages everyone regardless of age or condition, or an international campus that welcomes children from a dozen different cultures. All of these perspectives deal with celebrating the wonder and delight of nature and using that resonating “connectiveness” to open up new worlds for kids to explore. Receiving the commission for the Els for Autism Sensory Arts Garden, we had a rich and nuanced perspective to draw upon for the collaboration.

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An Interview with David Kamp, FASLA

by Amy Wagenfeld, PhD, OTR/L, SCEM, FAOTA, Affil. ASLA

Sensory Arts Garden
Within a lush and safe setting, the Sensory Arts Garden fosters curiosity and meaningful interactions and is welcoming to all regardless of ability. / image: Robin Hill (c)

An Interview with David Kamp, FASLA, LF, NA, Founding Partner of Dirtworks Landscape Architecture, PC

I am delighted to share the first of a two-part interview I had with landscape architect David Kamp, FASLA. Having followed his innovative and influential work with great interest for many years, I was fortunate to have worked with David and his team at Dirtworks to design the Els for Autism Sensory Arts Garden, located in Jupiter, Florida. It remains one of my favorite and most meaningful projects, one that truly meets the needs of children and adults with autism. We will talk about the Els for Autism Sensory Arts Garden in the second part of the interview, to be published here on The Field next week. For now, please enjoy learning about what shaped David’s design philosophy.

Personal History

Please tell us about your firm, when it was founded, and what your vision was.

Early in my career, as one of the designers for Australia’s Parliament House, I saw how design could express a sense of identity both personal and national—and do it at vastly different scales. Working for landscape architect Peter Rolland, FASLA, and a design team headed by Mitchell Giurgola Thorp Architects, the design for Parliament House drew upon an important historic concept whereby the city used its natural topography as a major organizing device. The design made little distinction between architecture and landscape. It is a triumph of the planner’s art, merging built form with landform in a way that is at once natural and monumental, seeking a balance with the existing landscape and morphology of the city.

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ICYMI: A Virtual Forum on the Future of Parks and Play

Social distancing circles in a park
Circles in a London park mark appropriate social distance. / image: Winniepix licensed under CC BY 2.0

On July 15, right in the middle of Park and Recreation Month, three of ASLA’s Professional Practice Networks (PPNs)—Children’s Outdoor Environments, Environmental Justice, and Parks & Recreation—collaborated to host an open dialogue on the future of parks and play.

ASLA members were invited to take part in this virtual forum as an opportunity to converse with peers about their observations and experiences, new developments being planned or currently underway, and what they are seeing locally in terms of park and play space usage or changes in use.

PPN leaders and members came together for small-group discussions within Zoom breakout rooms focused on what’s happening in parks and playspaces, and what landscape architects are hearing from clients and stakeholders during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Forum Facilitators:

  • Ilisa Goldman, ASLA, Children’s Outdoor Environments PPN Co-Chair
  • Ken Hurst, ASLA, Children’s Outdoor Environments PPN Co-Chair
  • Amy Wagenfeld, Affil. ASLA, Children’s Outdoor Environments PPN Officer and past Co-Chair
  • Heidi Cohen, ASLA, Children’s Outdoor Environments PPN Officer
  • Missy Benson, ASLA, Children’s Outdoor Environments PPN Officer
  • Chad Kennedy, ASLA, Children’s Outdoor Environments and past Co-Chair
  • Chingwen Cheng, ASLA, Environmental Justice PPN Co-Chair
  • Tom Martin, ASLA, Environmental Justice PPN Co-Chair
  • Bronwen Mastro, ASLA, Parks and Recreation PPN Officer
  • Matt Boehner, ASLA, Parks and Recreation PPN Officer

Four discussion topics and prompts were provided to spark discussion and input from attendees, who ranged from students to firm principals who came from across the U.S., along with a few based internationally. Below, we recap key points, recurring trends, and takeaways from the conversation.

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Getting Started with Participatory Placemaking

by Amy Wagenfeld, PhD, OTR/L, SCEM, FAOTA, Affil. ASLA

Teachers and students interacting
An effective strategy for participatory design is to go where children are, working with them alongside teachers and out-of-school program leaders as core partners. / image: Darcy Varney Kitching

We are honored to share the third of a three-part interview with Victoria (Tori) Derr, Louise Chawla, and Mara Mintzer (please see part one, Not Just Climate Strikes: Giving Young People Roles in Community Greening, and part two, The Benefits of Including Children in Participatory Placemaking, published here on The Field earlier this month). The three worked together on Growing Up Boulder (whose home base is at the University of Colorado Boulder), a program to engage children and teens in city planning and design. They also co-authored the book Placemaking with Children and Youth: Participatory Practices to Plan Sustainable Communities, winner of the 2019 Achievement Award from the Environmental Design Research Association. A new book, The Routledge Handbook of Designing Public Spaces for Young People, contains chapters by Louise and Mara on developing partnerships for child and youth participation and ensuring that young people’s ideas influence final plans. Happy reading!
– Amy Wagenfeld, PhD, OTR/L, SCEM, EDAC, FAOTA, Affil. ASLA

If you were to create a dream team to facilitate a placemaking process with children, who would be on this team, and why?

Victoria (Tori) Derr, Louise Chawla, and Mara Mintzer (TD, LC, MM): Start with a few enthusiastic people who represent different types of organizations. You need to have people who work with children and youth, such as teachers who want to do project-based learning, or education staff in nonprofit organizations. You will also want someone who can influence decisions. One or two people need to be willing to take charge of the project. For a small initial venture, they can be volunteers, but to sustain a culture of participatory practice, coordinators require funding.

In the Growing Up Boulder program that we have worked on together, a team typically includes schools or child- and youth-serving organizations, city planning and design staff, and university students. Specific partners vary depending on how a project lines up with organization aims and who will be impacted. We are fortunate to have committed city leadership, but in some cities, a nonprofit organization with a sustainability mission may be the critical catalyst and serve as facilitator. The single most important element of a “dream team” is that it reflects the community and pays close attention to people whose perspectives might otherwise not be heard.

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The Benefits of Including Children in Participatory Placemaking

by Amy Wagenfeld, PhD, OTR/L, SCEM, FAOTA, Affil. ASLA

A third grade student exploring an outdoor space with peers
When third graders explored opportunities to redesign the Civic Area, they wanted to honor the wildlife that lived there. This boy signals to his peers, “Shh, don’t scare the ducks!” / image: Stephen Cardinale

We are honored to share the second of a three-part interview with Victoria (Tori) Derr, Louise Chawla, and Mara Mintzer (please see part one: Not Just Climate Strikes: Giving Young People Roles in Community Greening, published last week). The three worked together on Growing Up Boulder (whose home base is at the University of Colorado Boulder), a program to engage children and teens in city planning and design. They also co-authored the book Placemaking with Children and Youth: Participatory Practices to Plan Sustainable Communities, winner of the 2019 Achievement Award from the Environmental Design Research Association. A new book, The Routledge Handbook of Designing Public Spaces for Young People, contains chapters by Louise and Mara on developing partnerships for child and youth participation and ensuring that young people’s ideas influence final plans. Happy reading!
– Amy Wagenfeld, PhD, OTR/L, SCEM, EDAC, FAOTA, Affil. ASLA

What are the advantages for everyone of including children on a design team?

Victoria (Tori) Derr, Louise Chawla, and Mara Mintzer (TD, LC, MM): Children bring a playfulness that lightens the work and energizes creativity. They literally see the world from different perspectives, given their different heights and their love of climbing and running over, around, and through the landscape. Children bring freedom from preconceived expectations. We find that children tend to think about all groups in their community—including other species! When the City of Boulder gathered input from all ages in preparation for redeveloping the downtown Civic Area, preschoolers and elementary school students were the voices for biodiversity. They wanted to make sure that changes would accommodate ducks, other birds, squirrels, and butterflies.

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Not Just Climate Strikes: Giving Young People Roles in Community Greening

by Amy Wagenfeld, PhD, OTR/L, SCEM, FAOTA, Affil. ASLA

Middle school students documenting a site with photos
Middle school youth photo-document open space adjacent to their school prior to an intergenerational neighborhood park redesign. / image: Lynn M. Lickteig

We are honored to share the first of a three-part interview with Victoria (Tori) Derr, Louise Chawla, and Mara Mintzer. The three worked together on Growing Up Boulder (whose home base is at the University of Colorado Boulder), a program to engage children and teens in city planning and design. They also co-authored the book Placemaking with Children and Youth: Participatory Practices to Plan Sustainable Communities, winner of the 2019 Achievement Award from the Environmental Design Research Association. A new book, The Routledge Handbook of Designing Public Spaces for Young People, contains chapters by Louise and Mara on developing partnerships for child and youth participation and ensuring that young people’s ideas influence final plans. Happy reading!
– Amy Wagenfeld, PhD, OTR/L, SCEM, EDAC, FAOTA, Affil. ASLA

For readers who are unfamiliar with the concept of placemaking, would you please share a bit about it?

Victoria (Tori) Derr, Louise Chawla, and Mara Mintzer (TD, LC, MM): Placemaking involves bringing people together to plan, design, construct, and inhabit settings of daily life: the local region, city, town, neighborhood, and everywhere people live, learn, work, and play. It is an art and a science, as people contribute their insights, creativity, and knowledge to co-construct places of meaning and memory.

The last two years have seen a wave of youth activism—first climate strikes, and more recently, demonstrations that Black Lives Matter. The climate strikers are rallying for a better future built on renewable energy, social and intergenerational justice, and the protection of biodiversity and the living world. Their scale is global. As one of their slogans says, “There is no Planet B.” Placemaking brings ideas like these down to the local level. By including young people in placemaking, we invite them to participate in creating the world they want to live in. They are telling us that they want a world where people live in harmony with nature.

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Getting Outside Has Never Been So Meaningful

by the Children’s Outdoor Environments PPN leadership team

A family visiting the Chicago Botanic Garden, pre-COVID-19. The Garden is currently closed through June 30, 2020, but is offering virtual tours and other activities for families. / image: Amy Wagenfeld

Hello from the entire Children’s Outdoor Environments Professional Practice Network (PPN) leadership team! Now, more than ever, people are discovering (or re-discovering) what we all know so well: that being outside is healthful, restorative, joyful, and, hopefully, just makes you feel better about life. With that said, during this time of COVID-19 and the need to practice social distancing, we decided to work together on a post with information and resources about various outdoor activities for adults to do with children. Some of the activities are more passive, like viewing nature; others are nature craft-focused; and some are more active, getting everyone outside and movement-oriented.

Please feel free to share these resources widely and, even better, share your favorite outdoor family or inter-generational “quaranteam” activity with our PPN LinkedIn group. Let’s keep this conversation going and make time to experience all that nature offers us and the young people in our lives, in a safe and responsible way.

Resources for Outdoor Activities with Your Children

The Discover Landscape Architecture Activity Book for Children from ASLA is a free, downloadable publication full of hands-on ideas that introduce children to four of the building blocks that landscape architects apply to designing outdoor spaces. ASLA’s Tools for Teachers page offers additional educational resources and activities.

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A Brief History of Playground Design, Part 2

by Naomi Heller

ASLA 2012 Professional Honor Award in Communications. Asphalt to Ecosystems: Design Ideas for Schoolyard Transformation. Sharon Danks, Bay Tree Design, Inc. / image: © 2010 by Sharon Danks

We are very pleased to share the second part of this highly informative article about the history of play, written by Naomi Heller.
– Amy Wagenfeld, PhD, OTR/L, SCEM, FAOTA, Affil. ASLA, Children’s Outdoor Environments Professional Practice Network

The first part of this brief history of playground design concluded with the shift from more standardized “model playgrounds” to the more open-ended, imagination-focused play of “novel playgrounds.” Beginning in the 1960s, in response to the Cold War, these novelty playgrounds took on space ship-themed structures. Described in a 1963 issue of Life Magazine, these satellite, rocket, and submarine playgrounds could be seen popping up around the world (here’s just one example: Scott Carpenter Park in Boulder, CO).

During this period, the manufacturing process for playground equipment also advanced. Originally constructed by hand or assembled from kits, novelty playgrounds shifted to more elaborate and standardized pieces. In addition, large firms specializing in designing, building, and maintaining playground equipment began to emerge (Verni, 2015).

In 1978, a one-year-old boy was climbing a 12-foot tall “tornado slide” in Chicago’s Hamlin Park when he slipped between the railings and the steps and fell on his head on the asphalt below. On January 14, 1985 a judge awarded him a minimum of $9.5 million for severe head injuries (Mount, 1985). Similar lawsuits created a need for playground safety regulation. Thus began the era of the “standardized playground,” with the codification of safety regulations and a re-design of manufactured playground equipment.

In 1981, the Consumer Product Safety Commission published the Handbook for Public Playground Safety, which has since been adopted across the US. The new regulations led to the shrinking size and height of new equipment, fewer climbing opportunities, and more guardrails installed on playgrounds. The regulations also addressed safety materials and specified hard plastic or splinter-free wood equipment, vinyl coating, rounded edges, and rubber safety surfaces.

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A Brief History of Playground Design, Part 1

by Naomi Heller

N.Y. Playground, between ca. 1910 and ca. 1915 / image: Library of Congress, Prints and Photographs Division

We are so pleased to share this informative two-part article about the history of play, written by Naomi Heller. Naomi is a playground designer focused on creating spaces and objects that provide children the freedom to think, act, and play in creative ways. Naomi received her Master of Science in Architecture from the Technion-Israel Institute of Technology, and her Bachelor of Architecture from the Boston Architectural College. She is employed at StudioMLA in Brookline, MA.
– Amy Wagenfeld, PhD, OTR/L, SCEM, FAOTA, Affil. ASLA, Children’s Outdoor Environments Professional Practice Network

The concept of play as a vital part of human development is newer than we may imagine, emerging only towards the end of the nineteenth century. Before that time, children were required to work in fields or factories and were not given designated time for play. Public playgrounds did not exist (O’Shea, 2013).

The first public play space was introduced in Germany by Friedrich Froebel, founder of the kindergarten. Building on the work of philosopher Jean-Jacques Rousseau and educator Johann Pestalozzi, Froebel recognized the importance of a stimulating environment and how it could positively impact children (Pound, 2011). Promoting the value of free and nature play, he emphasized the need for contact with natural materials such as sand and water.

Motivated by Froebel’s ideas, sand bergs (piles of sand) were placed in Berlin’s public parks in the 1850s. A more designed sand play was popularized in 1889 when Froebel published plans for building a sandbox (Levine, 2003). The article prompted the use of sandboxes across Germany, in schools and homes.

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Green Schoolyards: An Interview with Sharon Danks, Part 2

by Lauren Iversen, Student ASLA

Hoover Elementary School students in their school's garden
Students at Hoover Elementary School in Oakland, California search for interesting insects to study in their beautiful half-acre garden. / image: Paige Green, © Green Schoolyards America

Green Schoolyards: Our Cities’ Opportunities to Create Thriving Public Land Where Children and their Communities Benefit

Welcome back to the second part of Lauren Iversen’s interview with Sharon Danks, Founder and CEO of Green Schoolyards America. For the first part of this conversation, please see last week’s post.

How do you see play fitting in? I’m really interested in how play affects children’s mental and physical development. How do you see things like nature play fitting into the schoolyards?

I think it’s important that our schoolyards encourage all types of play: gross and fine motor, pretend play, social play, and nature play—particularly for preschool through elementary school. We need to be developing environments that interest children, as they play in the same place year after year, as their needs expand, and interests change.

Adding trees, shrubs, and other plants to a schoolyard—and designing them in ways that invite interaction—is important. Plants in a green schoolyard should not just be there to add to curb appeal for adults but should be designed first and foremost to facilitate child development and children’s happiness.

What do children like to do in natural settings? They generally enjoy crawling into bushes to make forts and dens. They like to climb trees. They enjoy picking flowers and collecting pine cones and acorns. They enjoy using different plant parts in their games as the seasons change—picking flowers in the spring, collecting seeds or nuts when they fall, and gathering brightly colored autumn leaves.

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Green Schoolyards: An Interview with Sharon Danks, Part 1

by Lauren Iversen, Student ASLA

Children playing, green schoolyard, Golestan School
Children play exuberantly in the vibrant green schoolyard at Golestan School in the San Francisco Bay Area. / image: Paige Green, © Green Schoolyards America

Green Schoolyards: Our Cities’ Opportunities to Create Thriving Public Land Where Children and their Communities Benefit

We are delighted to share Lauren’s interview with Sharon Danks, who talks about her vitally important work with greening schoolyards. This is a topic that is applicable to anyone who cares for and about children!
– Amy Wagenfeld, Affil. ASLA, Children’s Outdoor Environments Professional Practice Network Co-Communications Director

Interview with Sharon Danks, Founder and CEO of Green Schoolyards America, by
Lauren Iversen, Student ASLA, graduate student in Landscape Architecture at the University of Washington

Sharon, please tell me what Green Schoolyards America is and works towards.

Green Schoolyards America is a non-profit organization, based in Berkeley, California. We focus on transforming asphalt-covered school grounds into park-like green spaces that improve children’s well-being, learning, and play while contributing to the ecological health and resilience of our cities. We are working to change the norm for school ground design, use, and management so that all children will have access to the natural world on a daily basis, right outside their classroom door.

School districts are one of the biggest land managers in the country, and yet they often don’t see land management as their role. As a result, school grounds are often unusually barren places from an ecological perspective, particularly in our cities. Sadly, we’re putting millions of children—some of our most vulnerable citizens—in these places without adequate protection from the elements or the mental and physical health benefits that the natural world affords. The most barren school grounds are typically also in places with the fewest resources, creating an extreme equity problem and shocking level of disparity.

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A Recap of the ASLA Conference from the Children’s Outdoor Environments PPN

by Ilisa Goldman, ASLA, Missy Benson, ASLA, and Amy Wagenfeld, Affil. ASLA

The Living Laboratories: Exploring San Diego’s Nature-Based Outdoor Learning field session during the 2019 ASLA Conference on Landscape Architecture.
Attendees enjoying a stop on the Living Laboratories: Exploring San Diego’s Nature-Based Outdoor Learning field session / image: Ilisa Goldman

With the recent release of the film A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood, let’s give homage to the iconic late Fred Rogers and his thoughts about play. He said, “Play is often talked about as if it were a relief from serious learning. But for children, play is serious learning. Play is really the work of childhood.” Our Children’s Outdoor Environments Professional Practice Network (COE PPN) presence at the 2019 ASLA Conference on Landscape Architecture in San Diego fully aligned with Mr. Roger’s sentiments. Here’s how.

It began with a field session, Living Laboratories: Exploring San Diego’s Nature-Based Outdoor Learning, led by COE PPN Co-Chair Ilisa Goldman, ASLA, Park Landscape Architect with the City of San Diego, and Andrew Spurlock, FASLA, of Spurlock Landscape Architects. The excitement and sense of wonder filled the double-decker bus as the this sold out session got started. The first stop was the CDA Hilltop Child Development Center (CDC) in Chula Vista, designed by Ilisa in 2012. Program Director at Child Development Associates (CDA), Susan Holley, and Ilisa led a tour through the Outdoor Learning Environment (OLE), discussing the concepts behind the design, site layout, installation, maintenance, and lessons learned. Highlights included the Habitat gARTen, the mud kitchen, and vegetable garden.

From the Hilltop CDC, the field session headed to the community of Encanto in South East San Diego to visit the EarthLab, run by Groundwork San Diego/Chollas Creek. Education Director Joanna Proctor led the group through the project site, which included a native garden/pocket park, outdoor learning amphitheater, educational creek bed, production gardens, and newly installed accessible pathways. An engaging discussion about partnerships with the school district and community, and curricular connections, took place.

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Nature’s Capacity to Create a Lifetime Home

by Amy Wagenfeld, PhD, OTR/L, SCEM, FAOTA, Affil. ASLA

Farmer David, age 4, helping to create our first family garden. / image: Amy Wagenfeld

I think that my commitment to nature all started with my childhood home. I grew up in a very busy Midwestern household, the oldest of four children, with two transplanted Brooklyn, New York academics for parents. My parents’ prior experience with plants and gardening was nil. Nonetheless, upon purchasing our home in Southwest Michigan, they tackled installing a vegetable garden in our suburban home with great zest and enthusiasm; determined to be farmers and to cast aside their collective urban world view. Their interest in the garden rapidly waned, but much to their surprise, their six-year-old daughter (me) took to the dirt with unfettered passion and zeal.

I quickly found that tending to the garden was a means to escape from three pesky younger siblings and find quiet and solitude amongst the veggies. It was my place in our home, a place where I felt most attached and connected and whole. The garden was where I wanted to be whenever I could. When it came time to harvest, I can still recall, half a century later, a sense of sheer wonder and delight in what I, as a little six-year-old girl, had nurtured all summer long. I can point to those early experiences in our vegetable garden as the catalyst for what would ultimately define my professional work and lifelong love of gardening and nature as a means to define home and to enhance the human experience.

As an occupational therapy educator, researcher, and landscape design consultant, my work focuses on how experiences in nature impact health and wellbeing. I am increasingly interested in how childhood experiences with nature can enrich parent-child as well as place attachment relationships and buffer the impact of trauma. We want our children to develop healthy and secure attachment relationships with their caregivers and to home and to be whole. These relationships may be nurtured through experiences in nature.

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The Wild City

by Sarah Bartosh

The Wild City
image: Sarah Bartosh

Sarah Bartosh is currently a master’s of landscape architecture student at the University of Washington. She received her Bachelor of Environmental Design from the University of Colorado, Boulder, and then went on to work for Growing Up Boulder, Boulder’s child- and youth-friendly city initiative. She also worked with the Seattle Department of Transportation’s Safe Routes to School program to lead Seattle’s Playful Learning Landscapes Pilot Project.
– Amy Wagenfeld, Affil. ASLA, Children’s Outdoor Environments Professional Practice Network Co-Communications Director

With one quarter left of my MLA, I would like to pose this question to our profession: how can we challenge the way that we think about designing for children’s connection with nature in our increasingly urban environments?

Just as we are challenging many other spaces we design, I believe it is time we begin to do the same for nature play. As landscape architects, we are some of the most progressive and game-changing thinkers. We are constantly questioning the role of built environments, how they can address pressing climate issues, and how they can foster relationships between humans and the world around them. Yet, when it comes to children’s environments, we often settle for adding a few logs in a park, and call it “nature play.” I recognize and respect that this is a result of the many legal barriers that prevent us from creating bolder, designated spaces for children to connect to nature. This article suggests a way to think beyond these barriers.

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The Greening of Schoolyards: Campus Master Plans are Vital Tools

by Jane Tesner Kleiner, ASLA, PLA

Hough Elementary School’s outdoor classroom
Students practicing their year-end play in Hough Elementary School’s outdoor classroom / image: Jane Tesner Kleiner

I recently attended lunch recess at a local elementary school. With a bright orange measuring tape and a can of white marking paint in hand, I made my way to the far corner of the playground. It was a typical elementary school setting: lots of grass, a few trees, pavement play, and manufactured play structures. There was not much else, including shade, and it was pretty warm already. Before I knew it, though, a small cluster of kids trailed behind me, asking the classic, “Whatcha doing?” When I said I was marking the location for their new Butterfly, Sensory, and Strawberry Garden, they told me they were going to help. And as we talked, I gave them the BIG PICTURE of what we wanted to change on their campus. I shared with them the campus Master Plan.

Greening of Schoolyards (GOSY) projects can involve many things, but central to them all are access for everyone and user safety. Of course, in a world of sanitized “play structures” and manufactured authenticity, adding natural areas can come with concerns, many of which stem from lack of experience on the part of stakeholders. They aren’t uncreative…they just haven’t redesigned large, open spaces. When it comes to schools, thoughtful master planning encompasses two main objectives: enhancing the campus and building buy-in among numerous constituent groups.

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To Vend or Not to Vend

by Amy Wagenfeld, Affil. ASLA, PhD, OTR/L, SCEM, FAOTA

A typical vending machine station
A typical vending machine station / image: Amy Wagenfeld

I have been thinking about vending machines since last year when I attended and presented at the National Children’s Youth Gardening Conference hosted at Cornell University. What is my inspiration? Located in the lobby of the Mann Library is a vending machine loaded with fresh apples. Graduate students in the Horticulture Program pick the apples from the Cornell and Horticulture Section’s Lansing Orchards and keep the machine well stocked. Proceeds from sales benefit the Society for Horticulture Graduate Student Association.

What a surprise! I had never seen anything like it. My experiences with vending machines are those full of soft drinks and not-so-healthy snacks. One thing led to another, and I began taking pictures of vending machines, making note of where they were located and what their contents included. Then I started to do a bit of a search for research on their impact on children’s health. Here I share a few thoughts about how landscape architects committed to promoting children’s health and wellness can contribute to a conversation about vending machines.

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Gambling on Green: A Playground Renovation in Las Vegas, Nevada

by Lauren Iversen

Kindergartners play on completed labyrinth made from donated pavers and painted by students. / image: Lauren Iversen

We are delighted that Lauren Iversen has shared her story about a low budget, heartfelt playground renovation with us. Lauren is currently an MLA student at the University of Washington. She received her BLA from Iowa State University, then worked as a second grade teacher in Las Vegas, Nevada through Teach for America Las Vegas Valley.
– Amy Wagenfeld, Affil. ASLA, Children’s Outdoor Environments Professional Practice Network Co-Communications Director

Under my wide brimmed hat, with sweat dripping, I added paint, stroke by stroke, to the long wall. My legs burned sitting on the decomposed granite roasting in the hot sun. I sipped Cool Blue Frost Gatorade, hunger dissipated by 110° heat. A giant cottonwood shaded the playground in the afternoon, but at midday there was nowhere to hide. I looked behind me. Pavers in bright pink and green lay scattered about. Soon I would have to muster the energy to dig up the remaining pavers, wincing at the first attempt to lay a labyrinth. Next to the pavers, the newly planted Desert King fig reflected bright green fruit, leaves wilted trying to send all its efforts in the heat to its future. “Will these figs be around when the kids come back for school?” “Will I ever finish painting this wall?” Why did I get myself into this mess?”

In the 2017-2018 school year I found myself leading efforts to reimagine a field that had succumbed to sand from the desert heat. Working as a second-grade teacher with a BLA, a culmination of timing and tenacity led to a moment that morphed into an actual plan to build the playground. With my background, I embodied the role of designer, fundraiser, project manager, and community advocate. So, how do you build a playground without any money? In the end, the WHY was more important than HOW; therefore, it got done.

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Swings: All Ages and All Fun

by Amy Wagenfeld, Affil. ASLA, PhD, OTR/L, SCEM, FAOTA

Swings for all ages
Swings for all ages / images: a collage from our contributors

I have been thinking about swings lately, weighing the risk factors now associated with their installation in playspaces with the benefits they provide to motor and sensory development. I have also been wondering what others think about them. As a Professional Practice Network (PPN), we reached out to readers via ASLA, the Therapeutic Landscapes Network, the American Occupational Therapy Association’s social media sites, and to friends to gather some insights.

Front yard tire swing
The not-so-oft-found front yard tire swing. / image: Amy Wagenfeld

What about swings? They can provide therapeutic benefit for some children (and adults). The sensory systems most activated when swinging, gliding, or rocking include the vestibular, proprioceptive, and to a lesser extent the tactile. Here is how they contribute to overall sensory enrichment:

Vestibular: refers to the balance system. Located in the middle ear, the vestibular system responds to the position of the head in relation to gravity and movement and helps keep us from becoming dizzy. Our vestibular systems get a work out with the varied planes of movement a swing make take- front and back, side to side, circular, or up and down.

Proprioception/Kinesthesia: located in the muscles and joints, the proprioceptive system provides awareness of where our bodies are in space. When swinging, proprioception and kinesthesia help us understand the relationship of our bodies to the seat, sides, and back of the swing, and to know where to sit or lay on the swing without falling off.

Tactile: refers to the sense of touch. We make contact with and touch swings by potentially using all body parts, depending on whether sitting or lying down.

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Architecture and Design Pop-Up Play

by Chad Kennedy, ASLA

Children used left-over paper tubes, rope, and other materials to design chairs, cabins, and other cool things during the Modesto Architecture Festival
Children used left-over paper tubes, rope, and other materials to design chairs, cabins, and other cool things during Modesto Architecture & Design Week. / image: Chad Kennedy

Most autumn Saturday mornings at the downtown library in Modesto, California are decorated with shoppers and families enjoying artisan organic foods and searching for hidden gems and trinkets at a seasonal farmer’s market along a closed-off section of 17th Street. There is always plenty of music, food, and social dialogue, and everyone enjoys themselves. Once a year, however, this same location is overtaken with laughter, giggles, and smiles as hundreds of families and children swarm the area, overshadowing the events of the farmer’s market, to participate in an annual pop-up play event meant to raise awareness within the community about the design industries.

This pop-up play family event was developed by members of the local ASLA and the AIA chapters as a way to involve children and families in the wildly popular Modesto Architecture Festival, a week-long festival celebrating local architecture and design (now branded as MAD Week). The hope was that over time, more of the community would become familiar with the design professions and enjoy what they have to offer. The pop-up play family event is consistently held on the third Saturday of September each year, and this past year was the eighth consecutive year it was held. For months prior to the event, a team of landscape architects, engineers, library staff, architects, and volunteers coordinate and determine how to bring their skills and passions together to best showcase how fun design can be. Those same professionals donate their time and resources as they gather on the day of the event to mentor, guide, and help families learn, play, and enjoy their time together.

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Lessons in Children’s Garden Accessibility

by Jeannie Fernsworth

Aerial view of the children's garden
An aerial view of the veggie labyrinth and surrounding garden treasures. / image: PAPPHOTO

Over a year ago, I heard that one of the 2017 ASLA Florida annual meeting tours was to the Delray Beach Children’s Garden. While I was unable to attend the tour, I did have the good fortune of running into Jeannie Fernsworth at the 2018 American Horticultural Society National Children & Youth Garden Symposium. Jeannie Fernsworth, Co-Founder and Horticulturalist at the Delray Beach Children’s Garden, was kind enough to invite me to the garden and to share some thoughts about this magical place. Thank you, Jeannie!
– Amy Wagenfeld, Affil. ASLA, Children’s Outdoor Environments Professional Practice Network Co-Communications Director

Keeping nature and children wild is a challenge in the midst of urbanity. Parental instincts are to tame wild children and urban sprawl is about beating back wildness so that a townhouse can live there. For the sake of our health and wellness, the look and feel of nature needs to be maintained. This involves careful observation of what nature looks like and also encompasses deep understanding of the needs of people and children of varying ages, abilities, and preferences in a wildscape. The Delray Beach (Florida) Children’s Garden (DBCG)‘s mission is to promote eco-consciousness in all children through nature education and play experiences. Located just south of the downtown area, being immersed in the garden feels like you are miles away from the bustle of this South Florida beach town. The DBCG boasts innovative features, many involving repurposing materials otherwise destined for the scrap heap or recycling bin.

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