The Nature of Nature

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Taking a cue from Richard Louv, I suggest that we consider “Nature Design Deficiency.”  Nature playgrounds in the US usually have to be constructed– albeit that that is an oxymoron- or they can be naturally wild areas where the kids are left to be on their own. So far, we haven’t done a particularly good job with the former and we rarely see evidence of the latter.

While it has been hard to find exciting American areas for exploration of nature, Europe does not lack in excellent models. Two of the best, each distinguished by large expansive sites and opportunities for varied experiences, are the adventure playground in Valby Park (Copenhagen, 2001) designed by Helle Nebelong and the Environmental Education Center at Sloterpark (Amsterdam, 2012) designed by Carve.  Nebelong called for an organizing circular boardwalk built from dead trees from the site.  Nearby are multiple opportunities for scampering on other dead trees, playing in sand, hiding in dense brush, accessing a series of hillocks.  Carve’s creation is particularly noteworthy for ways in which kids can play near streams and even ford them with variously arranged logs or sail over them on a zip line; they can run on a bridge over the water while being aware that there is a railing (for wheelchair accessibility) on just one side.  Carve’s work gives children lots of chances to wander where animals nest and to get lost in deep brush or wade into thick swamps.

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After the Deadline

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I am honored that Playscapes has asked me to write a column every other month.

Professional liability is often the proverbial elephant in the room when it comes to playground design. Patrons, especially municipalities or school boards, usually choose off the shelf equipment because they believe it limits their exposure to lawsuits. Many designers prefer standard issue equipment for the same reason. Most manufacturers, aware that they may have to carry the greatest insurance burden, stick with conservative designs and – in order to protect themselves- charge high fees. The resulting playgrounds tend to be directional and repetitive with few challenges, all for a high cost.

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