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Urban Compass Calgary

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Rebooting Calgary's playground scene

Calgary tackling issue of playgrounds that maybe just aren't that fun.

Can the City of Calgary make playgrounds fun again? Their new mobile adventure playground is a step in the right direction, says columnist Jeremy Klaszus.

Credit/ play:ground nyc

Can the City of Calgary make playgrounds fun again? Their new mobile adventure playground is a step in the right direction, says columnist Jeremy Klaszus.

Look around Calgary, and you can see the playground—those small, formative little geographies of childhood—getting a much-needed reboot.

How often do you pass empty playgrounds in this city? The sad truth is that when driving, we often slow down to 30 km/h to pass structures that are built for kids, but barren of them.

The reasons for quieter playgrounds are well-documented. Our cities aren’t very walkable. Kids walk less than they used to, spend more time in front of screens and are generally more sedentary.

Parents, meanwhile, are more overprotective.

But there’s another aspect that gets less consideration. Most city playgrounds are located by quiet, empty green space, and many just aren’t that interesting or fun—both for kids, and parents who might take them there.

This being so, it makes no sense to keep building them the same way.

Enter the “adventure playground,” a concept that’s popular in Europe and cities such as New York City.

The movement is taking off in Calgary, thanks in part to the Lawson Foundation, an organization funding unstructured outdoor play projects throughout Canada.

This includes the City of Calgary’s new “mobile adventure playground” rolling out in North Glenmore Park this week.

Instead of planting permanent play structures in the ground that kids may or may not end up using, city staff are going to different neighbourhoods with loose parts: boards, tires, cardboard and other materials that kids can build forts and other structures out of.

After a few days, the city will pack it all up and move to another neighbourhood. Think of it as a pop-up playground.

It’ll be tamer than The Land, a Welsh adventure playground where kids are encouraged not just to build their own structures, but to start their own fires.

Even so, Calgary’s pop-up playgrounds will likely push some parents out of their foam-mat comfort zones, which is a good thing.

Telus Spark has adopted a similar philosophy of introducing riskier play for kids in their outdoor adventure playground, the Brainasium.

Kids climb up a giant webbed tower to go down a long slide. On ground level, they tool around on oversized teeter totters and unusually high swings.

And guess what? Children love being there, because it’s fun.

In East Village, a new playground is seamlessly integrated with nearby public space, including community gardens and public art. The area is still under construction, and already the playground is humming with activity.

Why? There are unusual play structures, such as a roller slide, but there are also tables and chairs right there. It’s pleasant for all. You can bring a book and comfortably enjoy a coffee as the kids rip around.

Instead of mindlessly plopping down some swings and a bench and calling it a day, somebody sat down and thought through the entire experience.

Create appealing playgrounds and kids will be more likely to play along.

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