Feature Article - November 2020
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The Play's the Thing

New Innovations on the Playground

By Dave Ramont

The success of Magical Bridge led the co-founders—Olenka Villarreal and Jill Asher—to start the Magical Bridge Foundation, with the goal of opening additional playgrounds. They currently have several other projects under construction, with a Magical Bridge in Redwood City, Calif.—a $9 million project—recently completed. But like the flagship space, it's currently closed due to the coronavirus. "It's going to be one of the world's premier playgrounds," said Asher. "It's waiting for people to come and play and love it, but we cannot open those gates yet."

The Foundation also has a design team that seeks to bridge the gap between existing ADA mandates and fully-inclusive play spaces. They work to secure grants and funding for low-income communities, "trying to identify the funds and then partner with the city to design it and get the construction done," said Asher, adding that they get inquiries from entities across the country concerning getting their playground projects off the ground. "We're happy to give advice and share what we've done. I wish we could help everybody, but we're staying very laser-focused on the projects at hand and identifying new projects that can actually come to fruition."

When asked about different products, Asher shared that "The laser harp is well-loved, there are always people under it playing. You can play music together side by side—it's incredibly popular. Because you don't touch anything, it's going to be fantastic post-COVID."

She described the Dignity Landing, a new innovation at the bottom of a slide so that users can scoot over with dignity while their wheelchair is brought down. "That's going into all of our playgrounds," explained Asher. "Both able-bodied children and adults and those with visible and indivisible disabilities, young and very old come to play. We have absolutely everyone at every stage of life come to Magical Bridge."

According to Callison, trail play will likely grow in popularity due to the coronavirus. "By having play activities along a trail, now you re-engage children with the idea of walking a trail or exploring a space."

The "play pockets" are typically nature-themed, with play activities that look like different animals in their habitat, and educational signage and information to help children and families understand ecology and environmental conservation. "They take up more space, but you can create the sense of a trail even in a small space by having pathways around things and putting areas of play around a building, and helping children gain a sense of discovery and exploration. When we add play equipment to those trails, we do see an uptick in the amount of usage to those spaces," said Callison. RM