Three new very different playspaces have recently opened in different parts of the country. The different approaches that the community took to create these spaces demonstrate the vast possibilities for inclusive design. The spaces are located in Upper St. Clair, PA, which is outside of Pittsburgh, Shady Springs, GA, which is outside of Atlanta, and Palo Alto, CA, which is outside of San Francisco.
I was lucky enough to be able to give some input for the one near Pittsburgh, but for the other two I think I need to plan some playground visiting vacations sometime soon.
This new park includes a plaza, patio, gardens, lighted trails, playgrounds, and the Playable Art Park designed to delight visitors of all ages and abilities. Similar to High Line park in New York City it provides recreation options that will appeal to either the casual stroller or an active toddler.
The 6.6-acre linear park runs alongside Abernathy Road, one of the city’s major traffic arteries, used by tens of thousands of cars each day. A community group, consisting of neighborhood representatives, worked with the city throughout the planning and construction phases, helping guide the vision.
Designed to encourage movement through imaginative play, the park is home to six playable art sculptures created by noted artists from across the county. The path that leads through the park is paved making it easy for people using mobility devices to traverse through the park. The Playable Art encourages children to climb and explore the public art installations. Two of them are tactile structures perfect for children who want to touch and examine different types of textures. Three of the pieces encourage opened-ended play through climbing, sliding, and crawling. Because there is no right or wrong way to play on them, they invite children of all abilities to approach and explore them on their own terms.
The six pieces are:
- It’s You and My Kid—Laser Cut Granite Boulder creating a three piece positive and negative space explorative sculpture. Artist: Frank Swanson
- Spider Walk—Interactive Climbable Sculpture in the form of a playful, stylist spider, for children of all ages to climb, occupy, and be enveloped within. Artist: Phil Procter
- Whimsy Wall—Mosiac of kilned fired glass on a concrete and steel frames invites children to explore textures, stimulate curiosity, and inspire interaction. Artist: Reham Aarti
- The Big Imagine—Reinvented swings with no cross bar to obstruct the view of the sky. Artist: Jeff Hackney
- Dragonfly—is a 50-foot-long brick-and-concrete creature with rope swings and seven slides. Artists: Alexis Gregg and Tanner Coleman
- Twist and Shout—A non-linear jungle of stainless steel tubing that loops, weaves, curves, and twists. It creates spaces to hang from, climb on, crawl under, and walk through. Artist: Beth Nybeck.
In addition to the Playable Art, the park has a handicap swing, places for picnics, and restrooms. The playground was recently recognized by Atlanta Magazine in their Best of Atlanta Issue. Click here to see pictures of the 6 pieces of art.
Top photo: Wonderwall
The story behind The Magical Bridge Playground is similar to many extraordinary inclusive playgrounds. A parent of a child with disabilities looked around the community for a place for her daughter to play and when she found none, she worked with the community to build one.
The Magical Bridge Playground design puts together some of the best inclusive equipment with creative landscaping and art pieces that they commissioned. The result is a unique playground that should help lead the way in how we think about designing playspaces.
Magical Bridge has six different play zones along with retreat huts that are scattered throughout the park to accommodate children who get overstimulated or overwhelmed by typical playground noises.
The Six Play Zones are:
- The Music Zone— The 24-string laser harp in the Music Zone, created by artist Jen Lewin, encourages visitors of varying abilities to create a symphony of sounds together. When a user breaks one of the laser beams, the harp creates a sound based on how quickly the person was moving and on the height of their hand (or wheelchair). The sounds are magical whether one or 50 are playing on it.
- The Swinging Zone—This area has a variety of adapted swing seats, a roller horizontal slide, bird nest swings, an accessible glider as well as a few pieces of adult exercise equipment.
- The Spinning Zone—This zone has an accessible merry-go-round imported from Europe, a Playworld Systems’ Cozy Cocoon, and group and individual spinning equipment.
- The Tot Zone—For the little ones, this area has age appropriate climbers, spring animals, and slides.
- The Imagination Zone—A giant two-story play house was designed by local artist Barbara Butler. It creates a magical space filled with nooks and crannies for kids to escape to. Colorful accents, large windows, and a simple floor plan help visually impaired individuals navigate throughout. The second floor looks out onto a stage area. Both floors are wheelchair accessible as well as the swinging bridge leading to the slide hill. The stage even has costumes for the children to use.
- The Sliding Hill—There are multiple ways to get up the hill and down the hill from easy to difficult. At the bottom of the Roller Slide is a seat where you can wait while your wheelchair is brought around to you.
There are many other special touches throughout the playground. There are calming sounds as you enter. There is a kindness corner and a picnic zone. There is pour-in-place surfacing throughout.
Casey’s Clubhouse is an imaginative playground next to the Miracle League field for Miracle League of the South Hills. The effort was led by former baseball player, Sean Casey and his wife, Mandi, who financially supported the endeavor along with the Pittsburgh Pirates Charities.
They hired Cre8Play to build an inclusive playground that was designed to resemble the skyline as seen from the Pittsburgh Pirates PNC park. This all accessible baseball themed playground includes a miniature Roberto Clemente Bridge and towers representing the different classic buildings in downtown Pittsburgh.
Some of the special features include:
- A baseball glove that you can climb up and slide through. Sean Casey’s signature is embossed on the structure.
- A Baseball Bat Tree. Tree made of GFRC (Glass Fiber Reinforced Concrete) has built a container to hold soil for real vegetation with a built-in irrigation system for living vines and vegetation that will soon grow out of the top.
- A piano that lets you play like you are in the movie “Big.”
- Misting features throughout including a 3D sculpture that resembles the fountain at Point State Park just outside of PNC Park in downtown Pittsburgh.
- Baseball bat metallophone.
- A NEOS 360 from Playworld Systems.
- Cozy Cocoons from Playworld Systems.
- An accessible glider.
- Adapted swing seats and a bird nest swing.
- Tons of creative climbers and slides.
- LED Lights up on the bridge that can be turned on with a push of a button.
There are many other special touches to help children with disabilities have fun in the playground including musical panels and a fence surrounding the playspace. The surfacing is the most extensive design I have ever seen. It includes colorful pour-in-place to represent Pittsburgh’s Three Rivers and playground turf.
You can see pictures of Casey’s Clubhouse on the Cre8play website.
All three of these playspaces push the envelope in terms of design. All of them brought inclusion specialists, artists, parents, funders, and community leaders together to develop a vision and implementation of their thoughts.
While the results are completely different, there are many things to be learned from the development and processes of these different groups. These are not average playgrounds. They all were very expensive. Not every community will have this type of resources, but there are design tips any playground can use. Here are just a few that came to my mind as I reviewed them.
- Use open-ended play events
- Use a combination of artists designed and manufactured equipment
- Involve the community in your decision making
- Include sensory experiences as well as quiet places
- Swings are important
- Encourage children to use their imaginations