Feature Article - March 2010
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All Together Now

Making Play Safe & Accessible

By Matthew M.F. Miller


Behind the Scenes

Not all safety advances are visible to the naked eye, however. Most manufacturers have begun to put an emphasis on using recycled and eco-friendly materials in the creation of their goods. Most of the steel used in today's playgrounds is made from recycled steel and much of the plastic used has a large percent of recycled material in it.

Teri Hendy noted that there also is a movement to bring more of our natural world into the playground environment.

"Designers are looking at being able to maintain a playground with the least amount of energy," she said. "All of the loose-fill materials that we use, with the exception of recycled tires and other loose rubber products, are entirely green. Many would argue that the use of recycled tires as surfacing material is 'green.' Engineered wood fiber is in my mind the most eco-friendly surfacing material that meets the recommendations of the ADA and of our impact attenuation standards."

Hendy believes that the use of sustainable, recycled and chemically safe materials only increases the safety and long-term endurance of not just the park, but also the world which your park is aiming to enhance.

With all of the planning required to make a park safe and accessible, the one thing a park planner should never overlook is the fun to be had by all.

A new trend Hendy is seeing in accessible parks is the construction of ground-level equipment where there are no platforms and the children move in a circuit from one climber to another. She also is seeing a lot of climbing nets and new creative swinging opportunities.

And for Hendy, nothing is as important as the timeless swing set, which is essential to the development and continued development of a person's inner ear, which helps us maintain our depth perception and balance.

For Bruce Hronek, professor of recreation and park administration, Indiana University, something for children to hang on and crawl on, over and through is the key element for modern parks. More important, however, is to create a space that welcomes all to explore and enjoy, and benefits the community in ways most would never dream.

"Imagination equipment that allows children to make believe and be creative is now recognized as very important to the mental and physical health of children," he said. "All research data indicates there is a distinct value to playgrounds and recreation programs including child socialization, family stability, reduction in obesity, reduction in juvenile crime, general health benefits and even an increase in property values."