Tag Archives: Playgrounds

Reconstructing Nature

Witness the playground remade, reborn for a new generation. Nestled in an unassuming hillside of a NW Pasadena neighborhood, it looks to be full of realized dreams. It is the epitome of modern sensibilities, of enlightened oneness with its surroundings. It encourages climbing, risk-taking, exploration, imagination. It is high on its own smug progressiveness. It is restful, peaceful. It beckons to children of all ages with visions of infinite possibility!

That log is not a teeter-totter. I was disappointed, as well.

That log is not a teeter-totter. I was disappointed, as well.

Hang on (but not to the non-existent monkeybars). Let’s back up.

How much time, how much work and sweat, how much money and planning was spent to level that area, to carve out the space in that hill–not just for this particular playground, but for all its previous iterations? And for what? To simulate the nature that can be found a few miles to the north, up in the mountains and canyons of the San Gabriels.

Children in NW Pasadena should have access to that natural splendor. Many do not, for various reasons closely tied to socio-economic stratification. This playground provides at least a representation of the natural pleasures they may not have a chance to discover until they are free of this segregated city.

But so too should these children have access to the natural, native splendor of the non-built environment surrounding their suburban dwellings. What did that area look like before it was razed and built and rebuilt to resemble a not-too-distant nature? What possibilities for play did their neighborhood possess before city officials (and hopefully the neighborhood associations) remade it in the image of en vogue recreation?

By remaking, by simplifying and decontextualizing and re-ordering the parts to ensure a finely tuned balance of muscular engagement as dictated by the latest research, this bourgeois playground equipment implies that the real thing is unsafe. “Ignore those living trees over there, kids, and climb on these fake rocks!”

Nature pristine, sanitized, fit for innocence.

A simulacrum of wildness, of yesterday’s childhood.

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Filed under Childhood, Contemporary

On the Superiority of German Playgrounds: A Photo-Essay with a Dubious Argument and One-sided Evidence

During recent travels in Northern Europe (please excuse the pretentiousness) I was taken by the variety and creativity of German playground equipment. It struck me how hideous (okay, so that’s a subjective aesthetic evaluation) and clone-like the playgrounds in the U.S. tend to be. Cookie-cutter jungle-gyms, swing sets, and slides. Not much that feeds the imagination. They are getting better, but they still have a ways to go if the goal is a magical land of outdoor play-time. Feast your eyes on these German examples and see if you don’t agree that we could learn something about incorporating whimsy and general awesomeness into our parks designed for children.

First, a relatively simple one:

This mundane park in a suburb of Bremerhaven consists of two sandboxes, a slide, a swing-set, and a spring-loaded, rocking, red animal-thing. I can attest to the fun-factor of this playground, as I used it extensively during my toddler years. The equipment has been there since before I arrived on the scene in ’86, so there’s also a sturdy factor involved in the manufacturing of German playground equipment.

Next, we journey to Berlin, a grown-up playground of beautiful graffiti, imposing communist architecture, historical monuments and museums for atrocities, a nightlife catering to the unemployed masses, and somewhat surprisingly child-friendly areas. As I wandered back toward the hostel one afternoon, I came across a hippie paradise for children and their parents. Allow me to demonstrate:

This is a collaborative community project of a park geared toward the non-adult population. It went on for days and had a waffle stand (the deliciousness of which I can vouch for), a community center, an area for smaller children with hills and artsy places to climb, and postings for classes and happenings. When I visited it was still being worked on and I imagine it was an ongoing process of creativity. A man was busy shoving fence posts into the dirt as a passing boy watched, and you could hear all sorts of banging and sawing going on in the back. It was a creative mecca.







It also had a bunny zoo.







And a water section. In another area, there was a fire pit going and some dangerously steep slides for teenagers.








Just look at this amazing community center entrance!

As you can see from the striped tape, it was still under construction…or maybe they were trying to encourage the grass to grow.


Last, we journey to Bergadorf, a suburb of Hamburg, to what I affectionately and nostalgically refer to as “Dawn’s Park.”

Okay, big deal. This is just a train. It doesn’t event go anywhere.







BAM! Blue elephant slide.







And a wiggily crocodile!




In conclusion, German playgrounds are superior to their U.S. counterparts because they are all like this. Seriously awesome in unique ways. So catch up, America. Don’t make me take my hypothetical offspring elsewhere for their formative years…you may never get them and their future taxes back.


Filed under Art of all Kinds, Contemporary, Sweeping Generalizations