Last week, we explored San Francisco’s Koret Children’s Quarter and playground, the Tot Lot at Portsmouth Square Park, Willie “Woo-Woo” Wong Playground, and Presidio Tunnel Tops in Part 1. Today in Part 2, we are moving slightly further afield to Dennis the Menace Park, located on California’s Central Coast.
Dennis the Menace Park
El Estero Park, 777 Pearl Street
Monterey, CA 93940
A couple of hours south of San Francisco, a small town on Monterey Bay is home to a park that represented the forefront of creative children’s outdoor play when it was opened 65 years ago and is still going strong today. Its namesake is the famous cartoon character Dennis the Menace, and the creator of this mischievous comic character helped make this project a reality. A quick Google search shows that the park was originally built before any notion of children’s safety standards existed. It had numerous fabricated steel pieces that were engineering marvels that kids could climb on, slide down, and even spin, elevated approximately 15’ above the ground, on. There have been various park renovations, but the essence of the park is intact and it still feels like a wild and unique play space.
As a landscape architect with four young children, I enjoy visiting unique and dynamic playgrounds wherever I travel. This summer, I had the good fortune of traveling to San Francisco, and I wanted to share my thoughts on a few playgrounds I visited for anyone thinking about the topic of children’s outdoor play as they head to San Francisco for the ASLA 2022 Conference on Landscape Architecture. It’s by no means an exhaustive list, and hopefully my experiences will be a motivating factor for others to get out and explore unique outdoor spaces in the Bay Area and beyond.
Koret Children’s Quarter and Playground
320 Bowling Green Drive (southeast corner of Golden Gate Park)
San Francisco, CA 94199
Originally opened in 1888, some claim that this is the oldest children’s playground in the US. It was remodeled and reopened in 2007, and has some unique, artistic, and fun features that make it stand out. The play area is about an acre and mostly open, with a sunny exposure. Pathways lead to sand areas with age sensitive manufactured playground equipment.
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.