Inga Saffron's running commentary on Philly's changing landscape took a playful turn last week as she called for a diversion from "the playground in a box," the factory-made, cookie-cutter climbing frames that dominate schoolyards and parks across the country." And after you join in our collective eye-roll at the tired trope of the "bored parents" who "stare at smartphones" while their children swing their youth away, Saffron does have a point when it comes to the dearth of "loose play" opportunities that Philly's playgrounds offer our kids. In her commentary, she references Susan G. Solomon, a Princeton-based architectural historian who wrote a book about playgrounds. Soloman says:
Today's typical playgrounds are maintenance-free caged areas that emphasize safety more than critical thinking," she writes. Character-building adventure and imaginative play take a backseat to liability concerns."
Saffron then muses: "What if the city ditched plans for new forts and opted instead for something rougher and more ad hoc, say, the playground equivalent of the pop-up beer gardens that have been so successful?"
Pop-ups are fine for beer or whatever, but how about a permanent playground, designed with real-live kids in mind, and parents who don't mind a healthy scrape or two to Junior's knee?
The Dennis the Menace Playground, located in Monterey, California, first opened on Nov. 17, 1956, and was designed by Hank Ketchum, creator of the Dennis the Menace comic strip as a place that would foster pure, unadulterated fun. Between the roller slide, the maze, and the abundant use of concrete in the playground's design, there are myriad ways for your youngster to have a blast and/or bust open her skull whilst running amok while you check your Facebook page.
But, more to the point, its design strays far beyond the prescriptive and controlling play spaces we far too often find neatly packaged in the middle of city blocks, and instead promotes discovery, imagination, and some good old-fashioned rough-housing. Also, can we please agree that it's a slightly more preferable option than Alex Gilliam's idea of enlisting children "to design and build pop-up parks?" Per Saffron: "his idea of creative play involves the use of power tools, even by younger children." All for the Philly equivalent of a Dennis the Menace playground, say "Aye."
Here's a video on the history of the playground:
· Changing skyline: redesigning playgrounds to promote "loose play" [Philly.com]
· Inga Saffron Says [Curbed Philly Coverage]
· History of Dennis the Menace Park [YouTube]
· Dennis the Menace Playground [Monterey.gov]