The Places

This section (see related features in the right column) lists play areas around the country that are based on some or all of the principles championed by the experts.

Granville Island – Vancouver, British Columbia
A popular water park is placed in view of the park’s restaurant, Isadora’s. Annually, over 100,000 people use the water park (with cost of $50-55,000 a year, no fee is charged). Isadora’s, a co-op restaurant offers a outdoor patio in the rear with view of the waterpark, picnic area, and an unstructured field for impromptu sports.

El Sitio Feliz – New York, NY
This is a favorite New York play area: inviting for people to garden, sit in a comfortable area and watch kids play with the popular water hose in the middle of the play area. In 1992, Union Settlement opened El Sitio Feliz a community garden built through the collaboration of the Union Settlement House, the adjacent social service agency, the Lots for Tots program of New York City’s Council on the Environment, and the residents of the neighboring tenements and projects. It is filled with ‘secret spaces’ for different agent. The play area is a focus for the community, often described as a sanctuary for offering active and quiet areas together.

City Hall Park and Washington Square Park – New York, NY
Several permanent chess boards draw large crowds of lunch-time spectators and chess enthusiasts, both young and old.

Harriet Tubman and Morningside Park – Knoxville, TN
Tennessee was awarded a UPARR grant to renovate its grounds and access sites. The park is surrounded by 2 housing projects, 2 senior citizen high-rises and HUD rent subsidized apartment complexes. Seniors enjoy walking the newly re-paved walkways, as kids play in the open field, basket ball and tennis courts. There are many picnic facilities, benches and a gazebo; places filled with ‘people watchers’.

Riis Houses – New York, NY
Designer M. Paul Friedberg noticed the lack of play areas near subsidized housing, and decided to design the “total play environment” at the Riis Houses in Lower Manhattan offering a mountain, tunnel and tree house to climb on, and numerous materials (wood, sand, granite and concrete) creating a place open to discovery and manipulation. Friedberg stresses that while a playground is a distinct area, it should not be isolated from the surrounding environment. A playground is not a cage, and should have no fences. Tactile barriers (such as changes in level) instead of chain-link fences can contain play, provide a sense of safe place as well as incorporating the play area with the whole area. Another important design of the Riis playground was the concept of linked play. Path systems were created between mounds and sandboxes, allowing for a natural array of choices. Friedberg aimed to provide play everywhere at Riis- from the sitting areas, the fountain, to the inverted mountain.

Adventure Playground Program – Houston, TX
This program began in 1984 and for seven years was running independently from the Parks and Recreation Department. In 1991, the adventure playground was brought under the umbrella of the department as it was confronted with liability and funding concerns. Currently, over 70% of the funding sources comes from the volunteer campaign efforts of nearby Emerson-Unitarian Church and the Memorial Second Baptist Church. Mr. Greg Nesbitt of Freed Park notes the lack of any comprehensive planning of adventure play. He states other park officials did not raise any complaints as long as it did not infringe upon their own programs. Nesbitt has been trying to remove the confusion regarding adventure playgrounds, not presenting it as a competitor, but as an alternative.

University Park – Irvine, CA
This adventure playground was built in response to pressure from citizen’s groups. This adventure playground was the first to have been conceived, budgeted and built by a municipality as an integral part of the city’s recreation plan. Bill Vance, former president of the American Adventure Play Association, remarks that the Irvine project represents his association’s dream – that adventure playgrounds become accepted among municipal recreation and park officials so that they become as standard as baseball diamonds. (Contact: Dwayne Pac, 714-786-0851)

Additional Places

4-H Children’s Garden, East Lansing, MI
Lots of creative examples of waterplay and plant play, although expensively designed by landscape design firm. (Contact: Jeannie Sehoen, University of Michigan, 517-353-6692;

AKIB, Berlin, Germany
A federation of adventure playgrounds and children’s farms in Berlin (Contact:

Anarchy Playground, Brooklyn Botanic Garden – Brooklyn, NY

Ardmona Kidstown, Greater Shepparton, Australia
The playground design, though designed to be a family tourist destination, is a careful mix of local culture and history with a variety of imaginative play areas. (Contact:

Blind Children’s Center – Los Angeles, CA
Design features to support therapeutic programming in outdoor environment and special needs of children; newly renovated yard as of March 1996. ges 6 mos.-6 years, visually impaired, blind and sighted children. (Contact: Midge Horton, Executive Director, 213-664-2153; 4120 Marathon Street, Los Angeles, CA 90029)

Centro Vita Daycare Center, James Kenney Park – Berkeley, CA
No equipment. Non-profit, owned by the city, cheap.

Chelsea Adventure Playground – London, UK
Adventure playground for developmentally challenged children.

Children’s Village in Ontario Place – Toronto, Ontario
City-wide draw, publicly accessible, integrated, oriented around children’s active exploration and development, colorful, exciting, but expensive to build. No more than one per major city could be afforded.

Endrup Adventure Playground – Endrup, Denmark
First Adventure playground in the world.

Flood Park – San Mateo, CA
A park with separate, themed play setting including protected sand play lot, woody area and mountain of linked play structures. Area was designed with a local group advocating universal design.

Ibach Park – Portland, OR

Imagination Playground, Prospect Park – Brooklyn, NY
Like Rockefeller playground, the Imagination playground owes it’s popularity to several different water features spread throughout the playground. It was a recent art commission award. (Contact: Christian Zimmerman, 718-965-6566)

Infant Garden – Davis, CA
An outdoor play garden that actively engages children in the experience of being outdoors and supports all four domains of the infant’s development; physical, cognitive, social and emotional. (Contact: University of California at Davis)

Jesse Stanton Development Playground – New York, NY
Institute for Rehabilitative Medicine, NYU Medical Center
Older playground for developmentally challenged children; an important historical precedent.

Lindberg Park – Culver City, CA
Good layout, easy supervision, accessibility features, variety of equipment for different ages. (Contact: Jack Nakanishi, Culver City Parks Department, 310-253-6650)

Lorain Community College – Lorain, OH
New playspace at child care facility with interesting water feature. (Contact: Jennifer Gosse, Director)

Lots for Tots – New York, NY
Sponsor organization: Council on the Environment of NY (CENYC)
The Lots for Tots program transforms vacant lots adjacent to child care centers in underserved neighborhoods into green spaces with trees, plands, picinic areas, sprinklers (or water hoses) and barbecues. Equipment is specifically measured for infants; an age group which has often been overlooked in playground design. Various city governments are involved and coordinate to clean, maintain, design, fund and staff the site. (Contact: Gerard Lordohl, 212-788-7928, Lenny Librizi; 212-788-7927)

Mark Twain and Tijerna Playground – Houston, TX
Two outdoor adventure playgrounds run by the Houston Adventure Play Association, a nonprofit agency formed as an outgrowth of the Latckey Committee of the Metropolitan Organization. The Adventure Play program contains many components such as gardening, carpentry, creative arts, group games, dramatic play, nature exploration, and sand and water play. (Contact: Cynthia Whittington, 713-522-8971)

Mary B. Connolly Children’s Playground – San Francisco, CA
Located in Golden Gate Park, this is one of the few models in the country of a Swedish comprehensive play park. Different spaces that appeal to toddlers, older preschoolers, school age children, youth, adults, families. Special features include small animal area, bocce ball, and picnic areas. (Contact: Linda Ma, 415-666-7046)

Pacific Oaks College Children’s School Play Yards – Pasadena, CA
Good example of children’s play yard associated with an early childhood development center, classic model known around the world, parent built, cooperatively around Quaker ideals.

Playground for All Children (PACS) , Flushing Meadow Park – Corona, NY
Sponsor organization: NYC Parks Dept.
The first accessible playground in the country for children with and without disabilities. PACS is a specialized outdoor facility designed to provide integrated play for all children of varying abilities. (Contact: Diane Piselli, Director; 718-699-8283; 11-01 Corona Avenue, Corona, NY)

Playground Project, Riverside Park – New York, NY
Successful parent group which works together to clean and maintain park, offers classes and camp during the summer as well as many successful fundraisers. (Contact: Julie Sakellariadis, 212-362-9185)

Rockefeller Park Playground – New York, NY
A very popular playground in downtown New York’s Battery Park City. The playground designers attribute the success to the sand and water throughout the playground-in fact, most children don’t even play on the playground equipment; instead they spend their time in the sand and water. Ms. Walcavage recommends that if a community does not have much money to build a playground; it’s best just to build a few structures for shade and have lots of sand and water. (Contact: Donna Walcavage, 718-834-0224)

St. Francis Square Housing Development Play Areas – San Francisco, CA
Good example of children’s play areas integrated with housing developments.

Success Garden – New York, NY
Sponsor organization: Parks Council
Success Gardens are environmental learning centers/community parks/play areas with strong local institutional ties, designed with students and developed by the Parks Council through their Green Neighborhoods Program which works with public schools and community organizations in inner-city neighborhoods in New York City to create small parks and gardens on city owned vacant lots. There are three gardens, each with ponds and one with a solar-powered waterfall over a large rock outcropping. (Contact: Sean Andrews, Green Neighborhood Program, 212-838-9410)

Universal Studios, Inc. Child Care Center – Los Angeles, CA
Built on a landfill, this sloping playground has an interesting use of “stacking.” Each level offers a different type of play with integration with nature, use of loose-parts, etc. (Contact: Linda Bird-Davies, 818-777-9130; 3737 Barham Boulevard, Los Angeles, CA 90068-1005)

University of British Columbia Children’s Center Play Yards – Vancouver, British Columbia
A rich variety of interconnected outdoor play yards for infants through 6 years of age, with an emphasis on natural materials.

Washington Environmental Yard, Washington School – Berkeley, CA
Transformation of an asphalt playground into a slice of nature (with approximately 135 species of plants), participatory process, an ecosystem in a nutshell, used for environmental education and outdoor extension to the classroom. Has a wide variety of play structures, enclosures, meeting places to help support the many social and educational functions.

Water Park – Portland, OR
Catholic church-run water park, supervised. (Contact: Chancellory, 503-234-5334)

Playgrounds That Break the Mold was last modified: March 8th, 2012 by Project for Public Spaces
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