What Can We Learn From Our Playgrounds?
Typical modern playground is surrounded by a fence and maybe a mote filled with piraña fish. To build a modern playground is a big deal. It occupies a large lot, it has to comply with safety regulations and it’s very costly.
In some states the adults are not allowed to enter unless accompanied by children and the children can not enter unless accompanied by adults. No, it’s not a thoughtful step taken by the authorities to keep the families together but rather a result of paranoia that assumes all adults hanging around playgrounds by themselves are sexual predators and that every little thing a child does without supervision will lead to injury, death or worse yet: a lawsuit! Modern way of dividing our public space is, yes: divisive, doesn't promote freedom of movement or freedom in its general sense and teaches us that there is always appropriate place and structured time to engage with particular activities. It's a helicopter parents' paradise!
During my recent trips to Poland I was searching for playground structures I grew up on. They were built during the glorious Soviet era and some of them are still there and have even been sloppily repainted. The structures have been commissioned by the communist authorities to promote health and the spirit of camaraderie among the future builders of Socialism*. I don’t know exactly who designed and built them but I know they were built with imagination, great sense of space, sculptural and architectural know how and great care for human bio-mechanics. The way these structures divide the space is very versatile and ingenious. There are straight and curved steel bars at all levels and all angles, not just limited to over head pull up bars. They encourage creativity and variety and there is no room for diagrams explaining the only correct way to use them.
Some of the "Soviet" structures are just simple “one liners” making their statement in the middle of a lawn or a concrete plaza. There are no “Rules and Regulations” plaques, no cushions on the ground and no fences. Just hop on and do what you want, whoever you are and however old you are! And lastly, if you have an eye for good 3D art, these little gems will please you visually. One lesson I learn from looking at the history and development of public spaces is how false safety concerns led us to gradual self imposed limitations. The old structures might soon be replaced with the over-complicated, over-regulated dull ones. Our sense of freedom to move and think in all imaginable ways might soon be replaced by rigid conformism.
* The idealization of human strength and of the classical body shape has always been a great part of most totalitarian ideologies while it might have been healthier to think it's better to move because it feels good and is good for you.