Look. You have to have your head in the sand if you don’t see the increase in natural disasters. But unfortunately, we only have ten years to start to reverse the damage to our environment.
While most people are fixated on CO2, the problems are everywhere and equally complex and difficult.
What does the climate catastrophe have to do with playgrounds? First, let’s lay out the facts.
When communities are hit with disasters, how do they adjust their budgets? Logically they prioritize recovery projects. Once those are brought under control, communities adjust by restoring funding to those services which have been cut, such as maintenance. What is the last item in the budget to be funded? New playgrounds.
If you doubt this, just look at the impact of the 2007 recession. I was operating BOLDR play sculptures at that time, and our business went to zero overnight. The downturn happened throughout the industry. Only the largest companies survived, and they have since gobbled up the distressed smaller firms.
That was just a recession. What we are looking at now is a future dominated by ever-increasing demands for funding, not just the current impacts of the climate emergency but also preparing for future losses. Add to that the core infrastructure changes required to become net-zero, or even net-minus.
But you cry; kids are important too. Yes, if anything, the pandemic has taught us, kids get hit really hard, and our society tends to fall apart when we don’t tend to their needs.
So what’s a community to do? We will do what we have always done. We will band together to meet their needs. One thing we will not do is pay tens of thousands of dollars on a new play structure.
If you doubt this assessment, just look at communities already dealing with this issue. For example, in areas of strife, communities meet children’s needs by building their own play environment.
A great example of this work of Marcus Veerman and his company, Playground Ideas. Visit his website at https://playgroundideas.org/build-playground/. The quality and quantity of the resource that is offered are remarkable.
Another example is Erê Lab in Brazil. Roni Hirsch has built a new kind of playground equipment company that uses local materials and creativity to provide world-class play environments that fit the local community’s needs, budgets, and culture. Learn more at http://www.erelab.com.br/sobre
Closer to home, a project I thought would be impossible; brings adventure play to schools. Portland Free Play creates adventure playgrounds at public schools. Guided by Leon Smith, this project shows that quality, low-cost play, can find a home in the mainstream.
So, here’s my thesis. Over the next ten years, community budgets will become exponentially prioritized to meet the impact of the climate emergence to fund recovery, adaptation, and mitigation. This will cause the demise of the playground industry as we know it.
Simultaneously, the recognition of the needs of children for play will become increasingly evident.
To respond to children’s requirements without funding, communities will turn to DIY solutions. This will not only include volunteer-built play spaces but pop-up play, as well as outdoor digitally assisted games such as Pokémon Go.
Over the coming weeks, we will look in more detail at these and other examples of sustainable play environments.
5 thoughts on “The Demise of the Playground (as we know it).”
Interesting thesis Jay and definitely something to reflect on. I suspect you’re right on the front end funding challenges. I can already see city level priority shifting to design elements like tree canopy and shade (especially here in Phoenix).
Or maybe it is a continuation of a trend that rejects the commercialization of public places and looks at local solutions and expertise that are more readily available to be on the same page of safety, for instance. Currently, however, this trend exists mainly in areas that can afford it and has very little grassroots support having passed the torch over to overpayed architects and contractors. The dissolution of community in the US via divisive politics, sick media, and violence provides little support for people to find a common denominator – even children.
Great article Jay. You could be right.
Thank you for the links to organizations doing DYO playgrounds.
More to come soon.