Playground Durability

One of the arguments I hear about innovative or natural playground elements is that they won’t ‘last’ as well as commercial playground equipment.
It seems to be universally assumed that metal playgrounds are the most durable. So I was interested to find this article from the Honolulu Advertiser from January 23, 2008, as posted at ‘playspaces for children in hawaii’:
By: Eloise Aguiar
Playground equipment installed at dozens of public parks less than 10 years ago is deteriorating due to rust, corrosion and wear, and the lack of a comprehensive city maintenance program has left many of the structures with holes or broken pieces that residents say pose a safety hazard and can take months to repair. Conditions at a small community park on Peterson Lane in Kalihi are typical of what parents and Honolulu’s youngest citizens have to deal with at many parks.A ladder is missing from the play structure, the soft flooring used to prevent injuries in the event of a fall has large ruts and the equipment is covered with graffiti…some parents no longer allow their kids on the playground because it’s in such bad shape.
Gary Lockwood..said he lives near four parks and all the play equipment has problems including a sharp, rusty hole in the deck at Enchanted Lake Park, a broken viewing bubble and slide that are boarded up at Kailua District Park, holes in the resilient surface at Pohakupu Park and more rust at Ka’elepulu Park.
From 1999 to 2003 the city spent almost $8 million to remove unsafe play equipment and install new equipment at more than 110 city parks. The playgrounds included resilient playing surfaces and accessible pathways costing from less than $100,000 to $125,000 for each site. Today, there are problems at parks across the island. In Kalihi, Salt Lake and at community parks on Beretania and Kalakaua in urban Honolulu, pieces of playground apparatus are missing and chunks of padding are gouged that could lead to falls. Equipment in Sunset Beach and at Waimanalo and Nanakuli beach parks got so bad that structures had to be removed.”
I realize that all playground equipment requires appropriate maintenance, but all that money and then removal within ten years? I’d hardly call that durable.
I’d be interested in your thoughts on the durability of current commercial equipment.
[images from a Berlin playground ‘cemetery’ found at richardthe]

One Response to “Playground Durability”

  1. PlayPlanters said:

    The following is letter I sent to Ms. Aguiar in regard to her article on comecial equipment that I thought you may find interesting as a follow-up comment.

    Dear Ms. Aguiar,

    I can’t say your article on the deterioration of playgrounds was unexpected. When I installed many of these units while working for an equipment sales rep (which is what a local playground company is) it was clear to us then that these units would not last.

    These playgrounds were mostly built for parents not children. Playgrounds were once about the space equipment occupied such as hills, trees, paths, and proximity to chldren. Hawaii’s playgrounds are comprised of cookie-cutter units located in the worst places such as the middle of a sun drenched field. Very little thought went into the spending of millions of dollars other than to please the public that their tax dollars were busy at work creating safe play environmnets for their children. These units could go up quickly and demand increased as parents wanted a brand new structure just like the one in a neighboring community. Mayor Jeremy Harris on his campaign office in Chinatown had a huge poster of a newly installed playground covering his King Street windows. A lot of publicity went into creating new playgrounds but the rewards came in votes – not happy children.

    Clearly, if children had been a central concern for creating new playgrounds we would have built better play spaces in addition to setting up a maintenance and an inspection program like most astute municipalities do. The old equipment was full of entrapments and lacked adequate surfacing – but there was never any evidence gathered that the new playgrounds had any impact on reducing the number or severity of injuries. Perhaps the bigger concern was liability, but most lawsuits are settled outside of court and the evidence of proper or improper use of playground safety quidelines is never addressed. Safety guidelines have also reduced equipment to a very basic structure which lacks challenge (often propelling kids to take unintended risks) and character. Gone are the rocket ships, the lunar landers, the long slides and the swings. In came generic structures with a dumbed-down play features that were built to last no more than ten years as opposed to the equipment they replaced which stood as long as thirty years. Maintenance can prolong the life of a structure to some degree, but it will not prevent decks from rusting out, plastic from cracking underneath a tropical sun, or keep rubber surfacing from being torn to pieces (surfacing usually cost more than the structure). When these parts break, they become a huge safety hazard which could certainly have been prevented and was foreseen – but when people are spending money and a lot of companies are making money – who cares.

    Some playgrounds are successful, but these are place that had some unique character long before equipment was installed. Old Stadium Park, for instance, has trees, a undulating terrain, paths, climbing sculptures, and many other attributes that bring kids away from the equipment to engage in other activities. Equipment should be a secondary concern for a playground but today it is the only concern. The equipment that was built will continue to deteriorate and will need to be replaced within a few more years. I don’t believe it is too much to reinvest another 8 million on our playgrounds (we should be spending more), but I would hope the next time around that a concerted effort be made to give children better outdoor play opportunities rather than enlisting equipment reps and pencil pushers to do the job.

    Outdoor play is important to instill in our children. As we witness the deterioration of our environment from a lack of open space to its ecological unfolding, it is vital to have children encounter their natural envionment so that they can value and preserve it. You can’t do this with playground equipment.


    David Verbeck, Playsident
    Grassroots Playscapes
    posted by PlayPlanters @ Thursday, January 24, 2008

    April 16, 2009 at 11:06 pm

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