Supplement Feature - April 2017
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A World of Play

Trends in Playground Planning & Design

By Joe Bush

Play Innovations

Norquist said innovation comes in a lot of forms, and he said out-of-the-box thinking is one of them.

"Materials haven't changed that much in the last few years; most manufacturers are still using some form of the same materials—plastics, steel, aluminum, GFRC, cables and nets," he said. "But how these materials are used, and what they can accomplish, can be innovative."

Philosophies can change as well, said Norquist. Multigenerational play has been driving many playground designs over the past several years, with playground innovations that allow caretakers to play alongside their charges. For example, a swing enables parents and children to play face-to-face and eye-to-eye and experience the scientific principle of attunement during play.

"They promote adult play, they encourage parent-child bonding, and they reinforce playful behaviors throughout our life cycle," he said.

Outdoor fitness products like challenge courses are also multigenerational, encouraging people of all ages to be more playful together. It appeals to a wide range of users, from all walks of life, play styles and socioeconomic backgrounds. Similarly, Chandler said she's seen a rise in the integration of fitness equipment around the perimeter of the play space.

"This innovative environment provides two major benefits: parents, grandparents and caregivers have a front-row view of their children playing on the playground, while they exercise, enabling unrestricted access to clear supervision as well as the obvious role modeling provided by their visible fitness activity," Chandler said.

Find the Right Partners

With so many options, Norquist said it's important to understand the evolving needs of clients as well. Every client is different, and every client has different goals and objectives. For some, budget is a driver. For others, innovation is a driver; they want the latest and greatest products. For still others, it's all about customer service—creating a positive user experience.

"The common thread for all of these clients, however, is they want to make sure they have a partner, someone who has the expertise, experience and resources to help them through each step of the project," said Norquist. "Designing and building a play and recreation space is an important part of building community and social capital, so it's critical to work with a vendor who lives, works and plays in your community and is equally committed to the success of your project."

Norquist said it's important to look at each build in terms of the project, and not just the equipment. Because there's so much that goes into creating a recreation space beyond just a play structure, such as surfacing, shade, site amenities and site work, all parties should make sure the project is well-planned and designed to meet the needs of the community.

"We think in terms of projects that enrich childhood and solutions that build communities," he said. "Playgrounds of tomorrow will emphasize the user experience across a broad generational spectrum and serve a diverse range of abilities. There will be a blending of the natural environment with manufactured product. We see technology being infused with play equipment, particularly with 'cause and effect' type games and activities. All of this will be centered around universal design practices."

Chandler sees a future of new client requests and industry response to new generations' needs.

"With the continued introduction of new materials that allow for customization, and the demand for more inclusive play environments, we believe that our industry will continue to respond with innovation that continues to engage children of all abilities and their parents," she said. "We are encouraged by the fitness trend, most likely driven by baby boomers who continue to focus on a healthy lifestyle, and the benefits of outdoor exercise."