The Science of PLAY: Inspiring Ideas for Designing Play Spaces

by Linda Dottor — January 20th, 2015   |   Play Space

A good play space allows kids to take these small steps: climbing a little higher, moving a little faster, getting a little closer to something that could be dangerous like a ledge or a fire pit… or disappearing from view and hiding.

A good play space allows kids to take small steps: climbing a little higher, moving a little faster, getting a little closer to something that could be dangerous like a ledge or a fire pit… or disappearing from view.

How can designers, educators, and parents join forces to create enriching play spaces that build strong communities, and allow children to thrive and grow in an urban environment?

Last week, the Collaborative kicked off an inquiry into the design of play space for Philadelphia with a presentation by Susan G. Solomon on her new book, The Science of Play: How to Build Playgrounds That Enhance Children’s Development.

“This book was born out of frustration,” Solomon began. “We say, ‘let the kids play’ but we’re not giving enough information to the patrons and designers of playgrounds to make that happen.” Instead, she said, most new playgrounds are built on the “KFC” model – kit, fence, and carpet. Often, Solomon added, play equipment is placed so low that it encourages parents to interfere, robbing children of the chance to collaborate and change the environment.

Solomon traveled to Europe and Asia to find alternatives to the constraining play spaces she regularly sees in the U.S. She also showed examples of American play spaces that have pushed past the formula.

Scary Stats Hide a Safer Reality: The U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission reports 200,000 injuries to children on public playgrounds each year. But only four percent require hospitalization, and the statistics cover everyone from fourteen months to twenty-one years.

Scary Stats Hide a Safer Reality: The U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission reports 200,000 injuries to children on public playgrounds each year. But only four percent require hospitalization, and the statistics cover everyone from fourteen months to twenty-one years.


Risk-taking isn’t reckless
The uninspiring play spaces in the U.S. are the result of fear over playground injuries (and liability). But it’s not like this everywhere. Solomon shared examples of play spaces in The Netherlands, Spain, and Japan that are places of risk-taking and discovery. What’s more, many of them are open 24/7, effectively making them community spaces as well.

“Kids need to take risks”, said Solomon. To develop cognitively, “they need to fail, succeed after trying, and keep many things in their head at one time.”

But risk-taking doesn’t mean being reckless, Solomon points out. “Children are born with innate fears, and risks help them take small steps to overcome them, to move beyond their comfort zone.”

A good play space allows kids to take these small steps: climbing a little higher, moving a little faster, getting a little closer to something that could be dangerous like a ledge or a fire pit… or disappearing from view and hiding.

Sling Swings: Even standard play equipment can be a source of adventurous, improvisational play. A cluster of bucket swings placed at different heights in Amsterdam become a place to swing and climb.

Sling Swings: Even standard play equipment can be a source of adventurous, improvisational play. A cluster of bucket swings placed at different heights in Amsterdam become a place to swing and climb.

A knitted climbing structures in Japan and Italy made it on Solomon’s “best-of” list for 2014. Watch kids at play form the "knitted wonder space" in Rome.

Knitted climbing structures in Japan and Italy made it on Solomon’s “best-of” list for 2014. Watch kids at play in Rome’s “knitted wonder space.”


“As safe as they need to be”
Will these new models for play spaces presented by Solomon in her book penetrate the US? Solomon reports that the United Kingdom, which closely resembled current US attitudes about play spaces just a decade ago, has “done a U-turn away from an ultra-safety stance.” The UK’s current policy is “playgrounds should be as safe as they need to be, not as safe as they can be.”

“Being aware of what’s happening elsewhere” is an important start.

Meg Wise of Smith Memorial Playground, Susan G. Solomon, Sharon Easterling of the Delaware Valley Association for the Education of Young Children (DVAEYC)  and Alex Gilliam of Public Workshop with Collaborative board member Paul Vernon of KSK.

Meg Wise of Smith Memorial Playground, Susan G. Solomon, Sharon Easterling of the Delaware Valley Association for the Education of Young Children (DVAEYC) and Alex Gilliam of Public Workshop with Collaborative board member Paul Vernon of KSK.


Panelists on Play
Local leaders in play, early childhood education, and participatory design joined Susan for a quick exchange after her talk. Moderator Paul Vernon posed the question, “The fear of liability is a big constraint in designing play spaces. How can we overcome that?”

Maybe that day is not so far away, said Meg Wise, who led a recent redesign of the Smith Memorial Playground. Adventure playgrounds are the future… There are place in the US where true adventure play is happening.”

Sharon Easterling of DVAEYC saw a strong link between child development and quality play space. “Most of our kids are being raised [in part] outside the home. How do young children learn? Do they learn because we tell them things or because they get to discover?”

Alex Gilliam of The Public Workshop cited a particularly adventurous play space in Berlin. “Some of the safest playgrounds in the world may be the most dangerous.” He added that having a code of behavior in place helps to build a culture of responsibility. Sharon Easterling agreed, “It’s not always a safety problem, but a supervision problem.”

Six New Design Grants

by Linda Dottor — January 5th, 2015   |   Design Grants

Design consultations will support storefront facade improvements on the Wyoming Avenue Commercial Corridor.

Design consultations will support storefront facade improvements on the Wyoming Avenue Commercial Corridor.

The Community Design Collaborative is proud to announce six new Design Grants supporting schoolyard greening, commercial corridor revitalization, and community-based health and human services.

The Collaborative’s Design Grants program offers grants of preliminary architecture and landscape architecture services to up to 30 nonprofit organizations in greater Philadelphia each year. Design Grants respond to the unique needs of each nonprofit grantee by preparing a customized scope of preliminary design services and assembling a team of volunteer design professionals. Grants provide between $15,000 and $35,000 in donated preliminary design services.

Two public elementary schools in North Philadelphia will receive conceptual design services for schoolyard greening: Blaine Academics Plus, in partnership with the Philadelphia School Partnership, and Dr. Tanner G. Duckrey School, in partnership with Community Ventures.

Tioga United will also receive preliminary design services to evaluate community and economic development opportunities on North 17th Street between Venango and Ontario Streets.

The Collaborative will conduct a programming and site feasibility study for expansion to The Philip Jaisohn Memorial Foundation, which provides medical, social and educational services for Korean immigrants and others at its Old York Road facility in Oak Lane.

Finally, two Philadelphia community development corporations will receive pro bono preliminary design services through the Collaborative’s rStore program. rStore provides design consultations to store owners who are planning storefront façade improvements and preparing grant applications. The goal of rStore is to spur multiple façade improvement projects within one neighborhood commercial corridor.

rStore will assist Nueva Esperanza Housing and Economic Development and store owners on the Wyoming Avenue Commercial Corridor in Upper North Philadelphia and Wynnefield Overbrook Revitalization Corporation and store owners on the 54th Street Commercial Corridor in West Philadelphia.

Apply for a Design Grant
Do you know a community development corporation or community-based organization that is seeking early design assistance and help engaging their community in improvements to their facility or neighborhood? The Collaborative’s Design Grant program can help!

Our easy, informative application process includes an application form, an interview, and a site visit. The Collaborative reviews applications on a rolling basis and selects Design Grant recipients four times each year.

On Board for 2015

by Linda Dottor — January 5th, 2015   |   At the Collaborative

Jody Arena and Megan McGinley

Jody Arena and Megan McGinley

The Community Design Collaborative welcomes Jody Arena and Megan McGinley to its Board of Directors. Experienced professionals in the fields of construction and architectural design, Jody and Megan will contribute greatly to fulfilling the Collaborative’s mission.

Jody Arena is Chief Operating Officer of Allied Construction Services. Jody has served on numerous nonprofit boards and is currently a member of the Pastoral Council of the Archdiocese of Philadelphia. He received his Bachelor of Science from Boston University.

Megan McGinley is Project Architect/Project Manager with Kitchen & Associates. Megan is a registered architect and a Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design Accredited Professional (LEED AP). Active with the Collaborative for many years as a volunteer, she currently serves on the Design Services Committee. Megan received her Bachelor of Architecture from Drexel University.

Jody and Megan join the Collaborative’s 2015 Board of Directors, which includes Story Bellows of the Mayor’s Office of New Urban Mechanics, Alice K. Berman, AIA of Alice K. Berman Associates, LLC, Cheryl Conley, Tavis Dockwiller, ASLA of Viridian Landscape Studio, John Donch, Jr. of Volpe and Koenig, P.C., Daryn Edwards, AIA, LEED AP of Blackney Hayes Architects, Noel Eisenstat of Noel Eisenstat LLC, Eva Gladstein of the Mayor’s Office of Community Empowerment and Opportunity, Jeff Goldstein, AIA, LEED AP of DIGSAU Architecture/Urbanism, Lee Huang of Econsult Solutions, Inc., Rebecca Johnson of AIA Philadelphia, Joe Matje, PE of Bruce E. Brooks & Associates, Darrick Mix of Duane Morris LLP, Paul Sehnert of University of Pennsylvania Facilities and Real Estate Services, Kira Strong of People’s Emergency Center, Paul Vernon of KSK Architects Planners Historians, Inc., Lamar Wilson of V. Lamar Wilson Associates, Inc., and Richard Winston, AIA of BWA architecture + planning.

The Collaborative thanks outgoing board members Deborah Branden and Patrycja Doniewski for their many contributions.

The Science of PLAY | presentation, panel discussion, and book signing

by Linda Dottor — December 19th, 2014   |   Health and Wellness

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The Science of Play

Tuesday, January 6, 2015
6:00 pm, reception to follow
The Center for Architecture
1216 Arch Street

Explore the role of design in constructing urban environments for play and creating quality spaces for children and communities with Susan G. Solomon, author of The Science of Play: How to Build Playgrounds that Enhance Children’s Development and a panel of local leaders in play space. Building on the Community Design Collaborative’s work within schoolyards, parks, and open spaces, help us discover how designers, educators, and parents can join forces to create enriching play spaces, build strong communities, and allow children to thrive and grow in the urban environment.

RSVP
$10 ($5 for members of the Collaborative’s Community Champions program)

PRESENTATION
Susan G. Solomon – The Science of Play: How to Build Playgrounds that Enhance Children’s Development
Copies of her book will be available for purchase and signing at the reception.

PANEL
Sharon Easterling – Director, Delaware Valley Association for Education of Young Children
Alex Gilliam – Director, Public Workshop
Susan G. Solomon – Curatorial Resources and Research
Meg Wise – Executive Director, Smith Playground

MODERATOR
Paul Vernon – Principal, KSK Architects

This event is happening in conjunction with the Center for Architecture’s CONSTRUCTING PLAY exhibit.

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ABOUT THE BOOK

The Science of Play: How to Build Playgrounds That Enhance Children’s Development
Susan G. Solomon

Poor design and wasted funding characterize today’s American playgrounds. A range of factors—including a litigious culture, overzealous safety guidelines, and an ethos of risk aversion—have created uniform and unimaginative playgrounds. These spaces fail to nurture the development of children or promote playgrounds as an active component in enlivening community space.

Solomon’s book demonstrates how to alter the status quo by allying data with design. Recent information from the behavioral sciences indicates that kids need to take risks; experience failure but also have a chance to succeed and master difficult tasks; learn to plan and solve problems; exercise self-control; and develop friendships.

Solomon illustrates how architects and landscape architects (most of whom work in Europe and Japan) have already addressed these needs with strong, successful playground designs. Having become vibrant hubs within their neighborhoods, these play sites are models for anyone designing or commissioning an urban area for children and their families.

 

Leila Hamroun, Finding the Future in the Past

by Linda Dottor — December 10th, 2014   |   Preservation, Volunteers

Leila Hamroun

As a preservationist, architect, and Algerian immigrant, Leila Hamroun has devoted her life to learning about the history and identity of places. For her, the challenge is how to create architecture that both contributes to its present community and represents its history. In Leila’s firm, Past Forward Architecture, and Collaborative volunteer work, she manages this delicate balancing act by incorporating the past into the design of the future.

“You’re not betraying history by acknowledging that it’s transforming,” she says. “Transformation is what made everything that we consider today historic. If you don’t do preservation and adaptive reuse, you lose the story of the transformation and you lose part of the identity.”

Bringing the Story to Life
In 2012, Leila was part of the volunteer team looking at Fourth Street Historic Fabric Row, and was instrumental in defining a personality for the corridor – one that maintains its traditions but would not limit its potential. She studied the neighborhood’s rich textile past, and then shifted the narrative from solely fabric to a broader identity focused on design and creativity. This gave the volunteer team the basis for a sculptural, textile- inspired streetscape design of Fourth Street.

Leila said, “Once you frame the story, and you understand what it means to the community, you have a framework for the architectural design. My part in the team, I’ve found, is to bring that story to life.” Read Full Story

Collaborations, Concepts, Reports… Results!

by Linda Dottor — December 5th, 2014   |   Design Grants

The community service and expertise provided by our volunteer design teams can lead to hundreds of thousands in funding for further design and construction. Many of the Collaborative’s past design grants reached development milestones in 2014. Here are a few highlights from this year that demonstrate the impact of our design grants.

lea_ribbon-cutting_1

Lea Elementary School in West Philadelphia cut the ribbon on the first phase of stormwater management improvements to be funded through a $242,000 grant from the Philadelphia Water Department. More play equipment and a bouncy, colorful, and permeable play surface were installed on the south side of the schoolyard next to Lea’s first community project, a planting bed of native trees and shrubs.  Read Full Story

Collaborative Receives GSK IMPACT Award

by Linda Dottor — December 2nd, 2014   |   At the Collaborative, Design Grants

Board members Paul Sehnert, Alice Berman, and Daryn Edwards join Beth Miller at the GSK IMPACT Award ceremony .

Board members Paul Sehnert, Alice Berman, and Daryn Edwards join Beth Miller at the GSK IMPACT Award ceremony.

The Community Design Collaborative was honored to accept a GSK IMPACT Award on December 2 from GlaxoSmithKline (GSK). We’re one of nine local nonprofits who earned $40,000 each in recognition of their exceptional achievements in contributing to a healthier Philadelphia.

“Place matters,” said Joe Touey, a senior vice president of GSK as he kicked off the awards ceremony.  “There’s a connection between your health and the community you live in.”

GSK recognized the winners of the 2014 GSK IMPACT Awards for the Greater Philadelphia region during a ceremony at GSK’s facility at The Philadelphia Navy Yard. Beth Miller, executive director of the Collaborative, says, “The award recognizes the impact of the Collaborative’s design grants. We’re proud of our volunteer design professionals and their contributions to a more active, green, and healthy city.”

Along with the pleasure of receiving the award, we got to meet the other Philadelphia-based nonprofit recipients and talk about our unique and interlocking roles. Along with the Collaborative, 2014 GSK IMPACT Award winners included After School Activities Partnerships, The Center for Grieving Children, Gearing Up – A Nonprofit Corporation, Graduate Network, Inc., the Pennsylvania Horticultural Society, Philadelphia Youth Network, Inc., University City District, and Philadelphia Youth for Change.

Follow our design grants from idea to review to report to results through the photoss by GSK’s Alan Nilsen!

Get the flash player here: http://www.adobe.com/flashplayer


A Healthier Philadelphia
“Today’s winners show us what it means and what it takes to build a healthier greater Philadelphia area,” said Katie Loovis, Director, US Community Partnerships and Stakeholder Engagement, GSK.

Much of what influences our health happens outside the doctor’s office – in our communities. Community factors such as access to healthy foods and recreational spaces, and the support of families and social networks undeniably contribute to our health. The GSK IMPACT Awards recognize nonprofit organizations with sustainable programs that address these critical community factors.

In Philadelphia, the GSK IMPACT Awards are presented in partnership with United Way of Greater Philadelphia and Southern New Jersey. “Partnering with GSK to improve lives is what United Way’s work as a convener of the nonprofit and corporate communities is all about, because we know we’re stronger together,” said Anthony J. Conti, interim president and CEO, United Way of Greater Philadelphia and Southern New Jersey. “We congratulate the nine winning nonprofits on this well-deserved accomplishment and look forward to the impact they will create to build healthier communities.”