Playspaces: The adventure evolution

A boy and girl are in a forest and are assembling lots of fallen branches to make a hideout.Playspace designers have an important role to play in society. That’s because play is an essential part of human development.  And as society evolves so too should playspaces. The recent move away from control and safety to adventure play offers plenty of room for creative designs. Recycled, natural or found materials rather than manufactured equipment allows for imaginative play. In line with the concepts of universal design, playspaces are evolving and designers are improving as they go. It means a lot to parents to have an inclusive playspace for their whole family.

An article in Landscape magazine covers the topic of play and design features. It has several good examples to share although they don’t appear to be inclusive. Nevertheless, some of the landscape architects featured are making their designs more inclusive. The Evolution of Playspaces is an informative article for anyone involved in playspaces. 

Two small boys are crouched by the side of a pond and are reaching into the water. For more see a separate article on inclusive playspaces and the Everyone Can Play guide. 

See also Adventure play and children with disability for a research paper on the same topic.

The Everyone Can Play website has a video where parents talk about what it means for their family to have an inclusive play space.

 

Adventure play and children with disability

A play area showing brightly coloured poles and a boardwalk leading to equipment.Play is children’s “work”. They set themselves challenges and most like to take risks. It’s how they grow and develop. But not all children get the opportunity to participate in adventure play. Disadvantaged backgrounds and disability are just two reasons. Underestimating what a child can do can also be a barrier to inclusion.

We are moving from a culture of controlled play to one of letting children explore through free play. Parents of children with disability are seeking more opportunities for their child to participate in these play experiences. However, most children with disability will need adult guidance or help, so care-givers need to be considered too. 

A research paper from Italy proposes that we should promote greater participation in risky play beginning by involving children with disability in the design process. The paper covers the literature on play and the benefits to health and development and the right of all children to participate. Making the play space “accessible” is necessary but insufficient to make it inclusive.

The title of the article is, When the risk is worth it: The inclusion of children with disabilities in free risky play.  It can also be found on ResearchGate.  

Abstract: Children show a universal propensity to perform thrilling and exciting play activities that involve some kind of risk: climbing or jumping at great heights, swinging, playing or engaging in rough and tumble play. Free risky play, which can be observed also in several mammalian species, has an evolutionary function, as it offers the opportunity to learn life skills, to master age-adequate challenges, to manage fears. Reasonable risk taking in play is a fundamental factor in gross motor, cognitive and emotional development (Sandseter, 2011). Adults’ concerns about children safety as well as social and environmental factors may severely limit children’s opportunities to engage in free risky play, compromising their overall health and wellbeing. For children with disabilities, free risky play is even more crucial than for their peers without disabilities, but they often face major barriers (e.g. lack of accessible playgrounds, overprotective attitude of caregivers) that can prevent them from fully benefiting from the opportunities afforded by this kind of play experience.The aim of this paper is to investigate the state of the art as regards studies on children with disabilities participation in free risky play, and to identify areas for further research.

Practical examples by Mary and Sally Jeavons were presented at the 2014 Australian Universal Design Conference. 

Universal Design for Yellowstone

Mammoth Hot Springs. Rocky terraces formed by yellow sulphur stand in front of a bright blue sky.Similarly to museums, a visit to a national park is an experience. So, applying universal design principles is more than just being accessible – it has to be inclusive. Mammoth Hot Springs at Yellowstone National Park is a great place for a case study. A master’s report identified four factors for inclusive national parks: accessibility, enrichment, engagement and multi-sensory experiences. The research compared and analysed several international landscape projects before devising an extended guide to the Universal Design Guide by the American Society of Landscape Architects. The document includes many illustrations and projective designs. 

The title of the report is, Yellowstone For All: Creating an immersive, universal design experience at Mammoth Hot Springs, and is by Rachel Cross.

Project summary: “Universal design is an important, emerging practice that strives to create inclusive experiences for every person who visits a place, no matter their abilities. This report examined acts and guidelines currently used to inform the design of inclusive spaces, finding key gaps. The new guidelines were then applied to the projective design for Mammoth Hot Springs in Yellowstone National Park. The projective design illustrated new possibilities for amenities to support accessibility, enrichment, engagement, and multi-sensory elements, thus creating a more inclusive and immersive site experience. Although many aspects of universal design can be achieved in a site design, there are unique challenges that designers must address for each project.”

Cross makes an important point about incorporating universal design features into the concept design and not leaving to a later stage:

“Although universal design stresses creating spaces for complete user access, that may affect the preserved landscapes. Also, it is important to incorporate universal design strategies in the early stages of design. A big challenge to adding universal design components into projects is cost, but incorporating them into concept design and continuing to strengthen them in schematic and final design phases will only assert the value that they play.”

Remodelling a city park: A case study

A view of the park showing many people using the park on a sunny day.A landscape study brings together aspects of universal design and accessibility with wellbeing. Using an existing park in a Polish city as a case study, researchers had to weigh up the advantages and disadvantages of eliminating some features in favour of others. For example, the loss of a sports field in favour of a new recreational feature suited to a wider range of age groups. A sensory garden and a garden pavilion where food stands could operate are a major plus. The paper goes into some technical detail, with lots of charts showing their assessment criteria. When the remodelling of the park was complete, the final assessment phase showed increased visitation. However, getting to the park was still problematic due to the poor accessibility from nearby streets. This is a key point and something emphasised in the Everyone Can Play guideline that has the three key elements for a successful play space: Can I get there? Can I play? Can I stay?

The title of the study is, The results of qualitative research on health-affirming urban places on example of new planned central park in Gdynia

Abstract: The therapeutic properties of landscapes are a phenomenon that is difficult to measure objectively. Designing health-affirming places for an anonymous user requires a departure from the traditional approach based on designers’ subjective, authoritarian perception of beauty towards Evidence Based Design (EBD). This paper presents a qualitative study of a section of Gdynia city center around the new city park. The universal pattern of health-affirming places was used in the study. This tool does not eliminate issues associated with the subjectivity of perception of landscape therapeutic properties, but it helps to organize the assessment process and use available scientific evidence.

 

Taming the wilderness with inclusive design

A boardwalk traverses a rocky slope down to the lake making it accessible for everyone.The natural landscapes of Norway conjure up pictures of fjords and wilderness with steep slopes. For some people, walks and bike rides in this natural environment aren’t possible. So one municipality of 1287 residents took up the challenge to create an activity park for everyone – locals and visitors of all ages. It was managed as a joint effort between the community and private and public partners. 

A man sits in a bike taxi which is being driven down a section of the boardwalk.Residents had input into all the elements of the park including information signs and a BMX park. Local businesses were invited to tender for contracts. Some thought the investment too much. However, when tourism increased and the cafe trade increased the criticisms receded. The award winning Hamaren Activity Park now gets 10,000 visitors a year.

 

A child rides a BMX bike on the BMX track in the park.The article on the DOGA website provides more information: methods, observations and lots of pictures. There is also a video where the designers and users explain their experiences. It’s in Norwegian but has English captions. Below is a YouTube video without words.

 

Universal design and gardens

A public garden with brightly coloured flowers and plants set around a water feature. Community and botanical gardens are a place of relaxation and enjoyment. They provide an opportunity to experience nature. There are many physical and mental health benefits to experience nature.  Applying universal design principles in the planning a design process allows many more people to enjoy the benefits of a public garden. The American Society of Landscape Architects lists some important aspects to consider:

    • Frequent, flexible seating with arm and back rests throughout the garden. Seating that is light enough to be used encourages social engagement.
    • An obvious inclusion is to limit the level changes, but where they are necessary they should be well signed with multi-sensory wayfinding.
    • Toilets are a must and should be located within easy line of sight, not hidden. Clear signage throughout the garden is also a must.
    • Secluded areas are also helpful, not just for people with autism or other cognitive conditions, but for private contemplation. 

There’s more on the ASLA website on this topic with some useful case studies.  

 

Going outside for inclusion: An education perspective

Four people paddle their brightly coloured canoes .The current theory and practice of outdoor environmental education is failing to include the voices of marginalised people and communities. So writes Karen Warren and Mary Breunig. In a thoughtful paper they argue that the historical background of white privileged males in this field still underpins current thinking. The arguments and thinking in this paper could be applied in other educational settings and the broader community. At the end of the paper they advise that instructors should use the language that students use to self-identify:

“Critically conscious use of language in educational environments can prevent the othering of students who self-identify outside normative boundaries. Asking all participants to share their preferred gender pronouns can prevent the misgendering of students. Mirroring the language that students use to name their identity allows the educator to advocate for inclusion. In a canoe trip for queer students one author recently led, participants were given an opportunity to self identify if they chose to. Even within the queer community, there was a diversity of identity – gender non-binary, lesbian, questioning ally, and trans- and cisgender gay were some of the responses. Educators aware of the power of language to oppress by renaming, disnaming, and misnaming participants will consider adopting the words students use to refer to themselves.”

The title of the easy to read paper is, Inclusion and Social Justice in Outdoor Education. It covers gender, race and ability from a social justice perspective.

Playspaces: Adventurous and Inclusive

A small boy crawls over a branch laying on the ground. He is in a woodland setting and wearing winter clothes. Concepts of play can be designed into many different places – not just the standard urban park. Making play areas inclusive is becoming the norm now – not singling out specific play equipment for children with disability. And not calling them “all abilities” play spaces either. If they are inclusive they don’t need a special name. We need to add adults into the design as well. Younger children only get to go if an adult takes them, and that adult might have a disability. That means moving away from the modular play equipment found in catalogues as the total solution.

Sanctuary magazine has a great article on nature play in parks and home gardens titled, Playspaces: Child’s play gets serious. Touched by Olivia has achieved many of its aims and is now part of Variety. The NSW Department of Planning has followed up on this movement with the development of the Everyone Can Play guideline. They are supporting the roll out of inclusive playspaces with funding for local government for a second year.

Note that there will be two presentations on inclusive play spaces at UD2020 universal design conference.

For academics, the Sanctuary article is also available from Informit.  

Inclusive Outdoor Recreation

A man with a backpack is walking down a path on a hillside. What does the international research on accessible nature-based tourism say? That’s what researchers in Sweden checked out.  Nine major themes emerged:

      1. employee attitudes towards people with disability
      2. accessibility of tourism websites and information systems
      3. accessible transportation, accommodation and tourist attractions
      4. technical solutions
      5. experience, motivations and constraints in tourism settings for people with disability
      6. tourism for the families and carers of people with disability
      7. tourism and leisure activities for older people
      8. the accessible tourism market
      9. nature-based tourism and outdoor recreation

This review found that existing research took the perspective of the consumer rather and the tourism operator. The report goes into more detail on the nine factors. It includes evidence from USA, Europe, UK and Sweden. The title of the report is, Enhancing Accessibility in Tourism & Outdoor Recreation: A Review of Major Research Themes and a Glance at Best Practice.

An very academic article, but with important findings. The key point – we need more research on businesses rather than consumers. 

 

Parks for Inclusion

Open parkland with St Patrick's Cathedral Melbourne in the background.When we talk of ‘inclusion’ and ‘inclusive’, have we thought of everyone? Older people and adults with disability are usually front of mind. But older people can have many different backgrounds and capabilities. Same goes for children and young people. The Parks and Recreation Report does an excellent job of covering just about everyone in terms of age, disability, cultural background, refugee status and sexual orientation. It has statistics on each of the groups which help focus the mind when it comes to designing parks and recreation facilities.

The Report is a concise document emphasising that everyone can take advantage of facilities, programs, places and spaces that make their lives and communities great. Published by the National Recreation and Park Association. 

Also, have a look at Advancing play participation for all: The challenge of addressing play diversity and inclusion in community parks and playgrounds. This is an academic article.

Abstract: Outdoor parks and playgrounds are important sites of social inclusion in many urban communities. However, these playspaces are often inaccessible and unusable for many children with disabilities. This paper presents findings from a case study of one urban municipality in Ireland. The study aimed to understand play participation in five local playgrounds by exploring the perspectives of play providers and families with diverse abilities, through the lens of universal design.