Feature Article - July 2016
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Play On!

Evolving Trends & Innovations in Playground Design

By Dave Ramont

Expanding the Audience

But why should kids have all the fun? After all, science tells us that play benefits people of all ages. Play releases endorphins and dopamine, which facilitate feeling happier and less anxious. Of course, there are adult basketball, softball, kickball and dodgeball leagues. And lately we've seen pop-up adult bouncy castles, ball pits and Slip-N-Slides. In Queens, N.Y., a vacant lot is being turned into an adult playground, with all-weather ping-pong tables, volleyball courts and fitness equipment. But what about combining traditional playgrounds with adult-friendly components so that everyone can play together?

Norquist feels that one of the best new trends in public play environments is the increase in multigenerational fitness equipment. He says that no longer do parents or caretakers have to be bystanders while a younger child plays, they can go to the park and be active, too. "We're seeing a resurgence of adults desiring to play—they want to swing because they know it's good for them. Play provides numerous benefits to adults. It improves their sense of balance, helps them stay focused, and is a natural way to relieve stress."

Challenge courses—modern takes on obstacle courses—are also trending in play areas. An automated timing device allows participants to time themselves through the course, providing fitness and competition. Spencer said, "Challenge courses are one of the most amazing innovations in the last few years, as they are truly family-friendly. The last time I was at the course at Hornet's Nest Park in Charlotte, N.C., I saw dads competing against daughters, even grandparents against grandkids."

Additional adult-friendly components popular now include updated seesaws able to accommodate multiple users, and a swing that seats two people face-to-face, so an adult can swing with a young child. Other mixed-age amenities supplementing playgrounds include dog parks and the very successful disc golf courses.

Looking to the Future of Play

Play—for all ages—has been around forever. And those in the business of play are always looking forward. Regarding current must-haves and new innovations, Steven mentioned innovations creating the next generation of a zip line, but with a roller coaster feel. "Imagine grabbing onto a handle, jumping off a ledge and gliding around a set course—up and down—of up to 80 feet. This is the future of play!"

Laris described a whole new merry-go-round experience—very inclusive, multigenerational and having a level of risk if one chooses. It may "look a bit spacey like a UFO, and give children a play experience that fills our natural desire to spin, go fast, and laugh together."

Norquist concurred on the merry-go-rounds and other dizzy play items, and noted that obstacle and low-rope courses with cabling items are also becoming extremely popular. And, back to those earliest play features, he stated, "An old favorite with staying power is the swing set."

The writer G. K. Chesterton wrote, "The true object of all human life is play. Earth is a task garden; heaven is a playground."