A Renewed Appreciation for Public Playgrounds

A friend posted on social media today a photograph showing the sheer delight on her toddler’s face at being allowed to go outside to play.  This, after two months of lockdown in their Paris apartment due to the Covid-19 pandemic.

Here in New Zealand, people are also anticipating the easing of restrictions  as we move through Alert Level 2, which has allowed the re-opening of public playgrounds.  As a parent of young children, I’ve been so thankful in recent weeks for a backyard for the kids to play in, and the ability walk our local streets.  However, there have also been many difficult conversations with my 3 and 5 year old kids, trying to explain yet again why they can’t play on the swings or slide at the park.

After weeks of lockdown,  many of us now appreciate with fresh eyes the every day amenities of our cities which we previously took for granted. The sudden closure of playgrounds has certainly given my children and I a renewed appreciation for these public spaces.

Playgrounds are an important part of our urban environment for a multitude of reasons, and will be even more important in the future as housing density increases and backyard space for children to play shrinks.

Playgrounds and public parks provide free opportunities for children to play, regardless of their socio-economic situation.  They encourage physical development, allowing them to hone their balance, strength and gross motor skills, as well as to calculate risks, develop self confidence, practice social skills and expand their imaginations. Having endured weeks of being cooped up at home with young children, I’m sure that many parents will agree when I suggest that having spaces where children can move and burn off excess energy is also vital for their mental wellbeing and emotional states (as well as that of their parents!)

So, as we consider what the future of our cities will look like post Covid-19, it’s my hope that developers, urban planners, landscape designers and Councillors will also see afresh the value that well designed playgrounds add to our cities.

But what makes a playground really stand out?  Some of our favourite playgrounds are those that:

  • incorporate natural materials and features of the environment into the play area;
  • spark the imagination (rather than being cookie cutter replicas of play equipment at numerous other parks); and
  • engage the senses – whether it be through play with water, sand, music etc.

Here are a few of our favourite playgrounds from New Zealand and further afield, to provide some inspiration for those planning or revitalised playground, or just some ideas of fun places to visit with your kids:

St Kilda Adventure Playground, Melbourne

Fancy yourself a pilot on a war plane?  Or perhaps the captain of a pirate ship?  The St Kilda Adventure Playground in Melbourne is a community run playground using all sorts of repurposed and upcycled materials to create imaginative play spaces.

St Kilda Adventure Playground, Melbourne

Moab Musical Playground, Utah

This playground makes good use of natural materials, and entices people of all ages to experiment with a fantastic array of musical play equipment.

Moab Musical Playground, Utah
Moab Musical Playground, Utah

Queenstown Gardens Playground

Opened in late 2018,  this million dollar investment by the District Council is a fantastic destination playground which appeals to a wide range of ages. Nestled on the shores of Lake Wakatipu, lots of natural materials have been used in keeping with stunning setting.  There’s a musical bridge, big slides down the hill, and an old fallen tree and rope swing over the stream have been retained, offering hours of fun by the lake.

Margaret Mahy Playground, Christchurch

This “all ages and abilities” playground has become a favourite for locals and visitors to Christchurch.  Inspired by the ideas and imaginations of kids following the Christchurch earthquakes, it provides plenty of physical challenges, trampolines, a flying fox, sand and water play areas, BBQs and food vendors.

As much as my kids love it here, I’ve learnt to only visit with my young kids when we have a 1:1 child to adult ratio.  This is a big space bordered by the Avon river and city streets, and packed with so much fun equipment, people, trees and hills. It can be easy to loose track of kids whereabouts in this amazing playground if you have more than one to keep an eye on!

Margaret Mahy Playground, Christchurch

John Leane Canyon View Park Playground in Grand Junction, Colorado

Why not “try your hand” at the sign language alphabet or decode some jokes in braille while at the playground? This Colorado playground which opened in 2015 aims to be accessible for people from ages 2 to 92, and includes equipment for kids in strollers and wheelchairs.

A panel displaying the sign language alphabet at John Leane Canyon View Park Playground

So there you have a few of our favourite playgrounds to provide a little inspiration.  Do you have any favourites to add to the list?  Are there other aspects of your city or town that you’ve gained a fresh appreciation for as we come out of lockdown?