Archive for May, 2009

Contemporary meets Traditional

May 27, 2009
Net at Vintage Green Valley Park

Net at Vintage Green Valley Park

A child’s imagination can become tangled up in a bright blue net for hours, recreating spider scenes from the Discovery Channel.  Twenty seconds later that same imagination can be completely free as the wind rushes past wide open eyes as the youngster’s feet race towards bark covered ground during an exhilarating slide ride. 

Today’s playgrounds offer features that can finally rival the mind of a kid… well, almost.  Two standout features on any playground are the traditional slide, and the contemporary net—also called a rope climber.  Although completely different in almost every way, these two elements complement each other with ease and can be integrated into a single theme.  One is solid and streamlined for speed.  The other is flexible and intricate as a labyrinth.

Great Slide at Magic Mountain

Great Slide at Magic Mountain

Slides can extend out from the zenith of a site, their highest point souring up into the sky—like the one at Magic Mountain.  They also provide the safe, yet invigorating passage back down to land.  Advantages of a slide can be found in the awe factors of each one’s individuality, whether that is through color, form, or height.    

Rope Climber at Shasta Park

Rope Climber at Shasta Park

Nets are ground dwellers of sorts.  They route their corners in the earth, then expand inwards and up, reaching towards a unifying center.  The middle, the cone post, is usually the highest point, as is seen in this blue wonder at Shasta Park in Manteca.  Benefits of a net include countless access points, sturdiness under weight pressure, and rare aesthetic value.  

Here contemporary meets traditional, however original, and all sides win.


Vertical and Horizontal Design

May 23, 2009

A battle in modern design is being waged between those who think the future is horizontal and those that think it is vertical.  Maybe battle is too strong of word—but there are two contrasting styles to be seen.  Vertical forms save precious ground-level square footage.  Architecturally, the design is usually more complex given that rooms or compartments are stacked on top of one another and adjustments in materials must be made to endure increased weight.  Horizontal creations allow features to flow together, mostly parallel with one another on the ground level.  Either style is fine, just as long as the manner of approach captures the essence of the site.

Tower at Magic Mountain

Tower at Magic Mountain

Going vertical in San Mateo County is an enormous castle-tower in the Magic Mountain Playground. Looming over the rest of the playground equipment on site, which have a horizontal feel, this behemoth seems to rise up amongst the clouds and allows a kid to go up, up and away—and then slide down.  Features like this one make a playground pop.  Not only does it take a visitor’s breath away, it is something that makes a place for itself in the memory banks of a child.

Vertical is exactly how to categorize this masterpiece for obvious reasons; what isn’t so obvious are the intricacies that take place inside.  They include stair cases, lookouts, and places to hide—and all flow vertically.  The other route, Horizontal, can be seen in the castle themed Apple Hill Park.  Walk ways connect slides and ladders with tic-tac-toe boards and a climbing tower.  The tower adds one vertical element, but the playground is largely flat.  For smaller playgrounds, going horizontal can be more appealing to those at play because more space is directly available from ground level, aiding in accessibility.

Apple Hill Playground

Apple Hill Playground

When it comes right down to it, both styles can be smart, attractive, and fun.

Prop 1B Voted Down

May 20, 2009


large-Playgrounds 370

News came today of more shaky ground underneath the already faltering feet of California Schools as the May, 19th Special Election proposition 1B was voted down.  Prop 1B would have set aside money from all state revenues in order to ensure that the public school and the community college systems would be re-payed adequate funding for the 2009-2010 and 2011-2012 fiscal years.  This budget totaled $9.3 billion dollars with the possibility of up to $200 million more to cover maintenance factors.

The prop, introduced by Assembly Member Bass, was voted down %59.1 to %40.1 as written in the Policy Report, cited in the Secretary of State’s Office.  The prop was formulated to contest the recent $12 billion dollars in educational budget cuts, which “forced the layoffs of more than 5,000 teachers,” and threatened the jobs of 13,000 more, said David A. Sanchez, President of the California Teachers Association, in his argument in favor of Prop 1B.  The reduction of class sizes, the rehiring of teachers, the purchasing of new text-books, and the funding of “critical educational programs” were among the benefits chopped by voters.   

No arguments against Prop 1B were officially registered in PR, but sources including the Legislative Analyst’s Office suggest that state savings would have taken place in the short term, but billions could be lost to educational funding in the future.

Californian teachers, classrooms, and supplemental programs will have to find another avenue for funding.

Rock Walls and Climbers

May 10, 2009

In the distance, next to some slides, a wall rises up to connect an enormous tower with the ground below.  Now closer, yellow, red, and blue hand and foot holds come into view, enticing visitors to scale to the top.  This is a climbing wall and it is one of the most exciting and memorable playground features these days.  What makes this element so great?  Reasons may originate in our ancestors and their summiting of the great peaks of the world, or the human desire to reach out to the top—or maybe the reasons lye in simple fun.  Which ever it may be, a climbing wall adds a facet of entertainment that cannot be found at the average playground.

HAGS offers many climbing products, as does Miracle.  The HAGS systems link slides and pole tops with horizontal climbing walls; or towers and the ground with a vertical wall, as told of above.  The form of HAGS is very contemporary, consisting of asymmetrical twists and curves that appear to come out of thin air.  HAGS also has other lines that are equally as enjoyable.



Miracle rock and climber products have a natural feel and exist as free standing features that look like the real thing.  These can be placed anywhere, but are usually seen next to playgrounds.  Rock climbers add diversity to a site and can juxtapose the metal and plastic of a play structure with reminiscences of nature.  Surround this area with trees and shade structures and suddenly, a truly unique play park is created.  While play structures such as towers and slides are the industry standard at playgrounds, rock walls and climbers add an irreplaceable component that generates a longing to go back.

Miracle's Kidrox Mt. Hood

Miracle's Kidrox Mt. Hood

Getting Active

May 9, 2009


Health is not something to be overlooked, especially in these complex and hectic times.  However, it seems that somewhere along the line, it has.  According to American Sports Data, “childhood obesity in the United States has more than tripled in the past two decades.”  This trend is likely related to the rise of electronic based entertainment and poor eating habits, and is in direct correlation with growing levels of inactivity in today’s youth.  Obesity contributes a wide array of “debilitating medical conditions,” says Penelope Slade-Sawyer, of the President’s Council on Physical Fitness and Sports.  One of the easiest ways to combat this dilemma is to fight off sedentary habits and promote an overall healthy lifestyle, including good nutrition and regular exercise.

Exercise can take many forms, from a quick basketball game to a brisk walk around the local park.  In 2003, Chairman of the PCPFS Lynn Swann said physical activity not only lends a hand in sustaining or advancing a healthy body, it also “improves mental health.”  The benefits of activity are seemingly irrefutable, but the hard part is making time for it.  Luckily, most experts agree that it only takes 30 minutes, five times a week to get a sufficient amount of exercise.

Miracle's Kids Choice

Miracle's Kids Choice

For those in the parks and recreation arena, specifically landscape architects, these facts are important to keep in mind in the development of recreational spaces.  Playgrounds are important in stimulating activity in children; walking paths and sports fields will inspire adults to get out there.  Also, keeping trees and shrubbery in view creates an attractive ambiance, as does the placement of drinking fountains and an appropriate number of litter receptacles.  Maintaining cleanliness and implementing contemporary styles will draw out increased numbers to parks today.  Usually, time spent outdoors equates to time spent exercising, so parks need to be desired destinations.

Urban Renewal

May 5, 2009


Urban-sprawl is a looming danger, both to the ecosystems and environments surrounding cities and to the people that make their living off of the open spaces away from all the hustle and bustle, like ranchers and farmers.  An April article in Land Online, the Landscape Architects News Digest, uses Atlanta as an example of negative extension.  Once, it used to be an ideal city where “all roads led downtown.”  Now, it is a “‘Sprawl City.’”  Surrounded by suburbs and newly risen cities on its borders, Atlanta has shifted from a central hub to a place where centrality has little meaning at all and the author himself, a native, is barely sure where downtown is anymore—because there are a few of them.  He, J. William Thompson, concludes that landscape architects must make every attempt to turn cities back “inward” and create livable spaces, however dense, with what must be truly innovative designs.

However, what would encourage people to move back into these dense spaces where breathing room is found less seldom than grass lawns?  In the May issue of the Magazine of the American Society of Landscape Architects, Peter Harnik, urges that new parks can really brighten a citizen’s perspective of a city.  He also notes that for this to happen, parks must be built in “unexpected places,” since untouched areas are so hard to come by.  New parks can be built as small as they need to be.  The only limitation is accessibility; if people can find it and get to it, there is a place for it.

Much of the reason the suburban lifestyle is so attractive is the window of freedom that comes with having a place to lounge around and enjoy the outdoors without pavement always underfoot.  If more parks can fill the spaces between, and even on top, of skyscrapers and apartment buildings, then maybe the dangers of never-ending urban-sprawl can be overcome.

Sustainability through Parks

May 3, 2009


When President Obama signed the American Recovery Act in February, he committed to a number of reform principles, including getting America’s energy independence back on track.  There are real problems with energy today, involving our foreign dependence on it of course, but also, a major issue is this country’s overuse of the stuff.  In many places, from homes to offices to entertainment destinations, electricity is the driving force behind many daily activities. says California will receive “$80 billion in benefit[s]” that will go to Health and Human Services, Education, and Energy, among other things.  In order to make these dollars count, it is crucial for Californians to do their part by limiting consumption and promoting sustainability.

Related to the playground and parks world and sustainability, the American Society of Landscape Architects, ASLA, has teamed up with United States Botanical Garden and the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center to create the Sustainable Sites Initiative.  This initiative will outline “voluntary national guidelines and performance benchmarks for sustainable land design, construction and maintenance practices,” announces the initiative’s website.  On that site, a 2008 draft of the initiative focuses on sustainability in ecosystems, dealing with health in terms of the environment, the economy, and society.  Linking energy use to standards of sustainability, outdoor recreation can greatly reduce everyday expenditures.  For example, a playground can last for a decade and a half.  A park can last exponentially longer with the appropriate maintenance and upkeep.

Back to the Sustainable Sites Initiative, parks themselves can further conservation by using the practices outlines.  They can work with the surrounding ecosystem during construction and use more eco friendly maintenance procedures.  Also, using recyclable substances and reusing building materials will aid this cause.  Parks and playgrounds will limit energy consumption and promote sustainable recreation, especially in the long term.

Playground Safety, Surfaces

May 1, 2009

When the clouds roll in and the rain starts to pour, a slick surface can cause all sorts of trouble.  And usually, a slick surface is a hard one.  Cement or asphalt under play equipment is potentially hazardous for many reasons.  There is the likely hood of becoming riddled with puddles during a drizzle.  Also, a solid surface acts as an inflexible landing site in the event of a fall.  In any case, placing flexible rubber under a playground will prevent many injuries do to spills and mulch chips and sand will certainly not allow water to accumulate on the surface during rain showers.  Providing soft ground will solve many injury related problems.

Rubber mulch is available in different colors, such as blue, red, green, and brown.

green rubber mulch

green rubber mulch

A unique surfacing option comes with SpectraTurf, which uses shapes and a wide array of colors to create imaginative designs.  Another durable solution is wood fiber.

Play ground safety does not stop at the floor though; maintains that adult supervision is the most reliable way of keeping kids at play safe.  Adults can monitor many conditions that may arise during an outing and their experience adds certain vantage points that most children miss all together.  The site has comprehensive pages of playground safety advice that are well worth checking out.