Supplement Feature - April 2012
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Go Play!

Vibrant Colors, Exciting Layouts Capture Interest

By Julie Knudson

In New Mexico's North Las Cruces Park, a bigger-than-life scorpion suns itself on an outcropping at the edge of the new playground equipment, offering kids the opportunity to climb on an arachnid they're normally careful to avoid. "We wanted something with interest," said Mark Johnston, director of Parks and Recreation for the City of Las Cruces. "Something that blended with the desert, and yet stood out in the desert." That connection with the surrounding landscape and flavor of the community is becoming more popular, and it's one of Johnston's hallmarks. "I tend to do things that really fit the area…and I think this nailed it." Dismissing what he called "cookie cutter-type playgrounds," Johnston instead opted for a concept that grabbed kids' interest. "When our children go to a park, I want them really to say, 'Wow.'" His team also erected an adobe-style fort wall that sits between the scorpion and the rest of the playground structures, creating an appealing visual effect that makes the park feel simultaneously more spacious and interactive.

Ample space between the different structures at John Marty Park in Beaverton, Ore., gives kids a chance to enjoy freeform activities without leaving the playground. That desire for innovation and creativity may be closer to the surface in kids than it is for adults, said Doug Menke, general manager of the Tualatin Hills Park and Recreation District (THPRD). "Parents seem to gravitate toward the conventional, standard play equipment, while the kids are very excited about the updated, more modern elements."

Menke said that conventional designs—such as the classic post-and-platform structures— are often being reinvented to provide children with more opportunities for creative play. Much of the traditionally styled equipment "allows for one, specified use," Menke said, a notion that may not satisfy kids' yearning to invent their own games and play activities. "What we are seeing now are independent, unconventional pieces linked together to create limitless uses."