Urban Playgrounds: Making Room for the Imagination

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Two rowboats installed as outdoor sculpture

Photo Credit: Mitch Ryerson

Mitch Ryerson • www.ryersondesign.com

This Round Table discussion focused on what artists are uniquely qualified to bring to the arena of playground design. Ryerson opened the conversation by speaking briefly about the current innovations in playground design, how “play” is gaining recognition as a fundamental requirement for healthy childhood development and the importance of “open-ended play”, where children take the experience in whatever direction their own imaginations may lead. The history of “adventure playgrounds” was discussed, as well as the idea that a certain level of risk-taking is critical for truly creative play to take place. Ryerson showed examples of this type of playground.

There was a good discussion about the notion that play should not be limited to children. Ryerson suggested that artists can lead the way to help people understand this through public work, performances or other interventions in the public sphere. Play should be something that adults feel comfortable doing as adults; not only with children’s help. People talked about their own personal experiences of play and their memories of how it led to them thinking of themselves as artists. The Round Table ended with lots of open questions and a desire to explore these topics further.

Resource List
Dettner, Richard. Design for Play. Cambridge: MIT Press, 1969.
Lady Allen of Hurtwood. Planning for Play. New York: Thames and Hudson, 1968.
Friedberg, M. Paul, and Ellen Perry Berkeley. Play and Interplay. New York: Macmillan, 1970.
Hogan, Paul. The Nuts and Bolts of Playground Construction. West Point, NY: Leisure Press, 1982.

Frost, Joe. “Evolution of the American Playground.” Scholarpedia. November 20, 2012. Accessed September 29, 2016. www.scholarpedia.org/article/Evolution_of_American_Playgrounds.
Kuh, Lisa M., Iris Ponte, and Clement Chau. “The Impact of a Natural Playscape Installation on Young Children’s Play Behaviors.” Children, Youth and Environments 23, no. 2 (2013): pp. 49-77.

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My website, which shows various playgrounds I have worked on in the Boston area.

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May 5th – September 9th
BSA Space
290 Congress St., Boston MA