Garfield Park Natural Playscape V 1.0, Chicago, Site Design Group, 2015

I really like that the new natural playground at the Garfield Park Conservatory is referred to as ‘V 1.0’.  Even though in this case it means that there is a Phase 2 play project yet to be constructed, it reminds me that all constructed spaces ‘as designed’ are only V. 1.0, and they should welcome being changed according to the needs and desires of their users.   Too many playground ‘owners’  prescribe what their users are permitted to do in the space–climb here only, slide here only, sit here only, no running, no skateboarding–and then fight back against those who want to use the space in other ways.  That’s a battle in which both sides lose:  the public doesn’t get their needs met and the ‘owners’ lose time, money, and goodwill enforcing ‘rules’ that actually. don’t. exist.

Safety, you say?  Nope.  The goal is to channel user needs/desires into safe pathways.  Frustrating the user by ignoring their desires (say, for more adventurous, riskier play) will lead them to either ignore the space or literally to break it–unsafely–to make it work. When that happens, we shouldn’t bemoan the bad behavior of the public the space was designed to serve.  Instead, we should acknowledge that the design didn’t actually serve them, and try again.

As to the Garfield Conservatory playscape, I particularly like that it accomodates performativity (note the stage) and is purpose-built for flexible additions like fabric hammocks and den building and twine-tying, and that they were brave enough to put in some TALL stumps, not just the boring short ones, along with a ‘very steep bridge’.  Hooray for steep!  Let’s see more steep, and more V 1.0, on the playground.

2 Responses to “Garfield Park Natural Playscape V 1.0, Chicago, Site Design Group, 2015”

  1. Paige Johnson said:

    I think it’s happening; early childhood teachers have certainly led the way in creating their own environments–particularly loose parts natural playscapes–for play. This just hasn’t affected the ‘big’ school playgrounds as much yet. Mostly because they are high-dollar installations already fixed in place.

    July 30, 2015 at 9:29 am

  2. Jennifer Butler said:

    Wow – great analysis of a great project. Especially the need to design for change. Teachers, especially in the pre-K world, are keenly aware of children’s need for variety in the interior environment. So why doesn’t this extend to the playground? Is there not enough sense of individual ownership? Perhaps its time to turn over control of the playground from the grounds/maintenance crew to the teachers (and parents!)

    July 29, 2015 at 2:46 pm

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