Spielplatz vs. Playground

One of the comments about the “House on a Hill” playscape from Germany was that it didn’t meet US safety standards.   Which of course is true, and points to the dramatically different perspective on what play spaces should do and be, and on the place of risk and safety within that, in those two countries.  So behold:   the difference between a random google image search for ‘playground’, and one for ‘spielplatz’ (German for playground).  Spielplatz has  more hills, more water, more wood (less plastic), more things that look dangerous.  Telling, huh?

8 Responses to “Spielplatz vs. Playground”

  1. Lynn said:

    Sand area are a real problem in most urban places in New Zealand as we have so many cats which use the sand as a toilet. Sandpits are generally covered or in cages when not in use because of the cats.

    Our safety standards for playgrounds generally seem to work well. The bigest differences between New Zealand and Germany seem to be that we have more requirements for soft-fall and slightly lower fall heights. Softfall is generally bark which is reasonably cheap here so it is not a major problem.

    March 31, 2013 at 6:10 am

  2. Bob Meihaus said:

    Okay, now your are getting personal. First, there are alot of great play opportunities in the US,natural and manmade, they are just spread out over a much bigger geographic area. The demographic has definitely changed over the last 30 years in the US, a vast increase in educated parents who only have 1 to 3 children instead of 6 to 10, so they are one, more protective and two much more involved and concerned with their future and well being. Plus, along with their education comes an over enthusiastic case of examination and intervention. Especially in a field where everyone seems to have an opinion and often becomes a self-proclaimed expert and or know-it-all. Truthfully, the main issue for the US Safety Guidelines, wether the Consumer Product or the ASTM,they were mostly written and dictated by special interest groups in an effort to protect and promote their self interestes. Asking the major Manufactors to be so involved in this process was like asking the fox to gaurd the chicken house. To me, the Safety Guidelines and Accessiblity have been our greatest obstacles. People turn to them as their main resource and forget that they are about safety and construction issues, not Design or Play Value Over the past 20 years we have spent so much energy and resources on safety and attempts to guarantee access to every play area for every child, it has put us behind the innovation curve. The other real deterant in the US for innovation, more creative and start-up companies to become involved in this business, is Liability. If you do not have the funds to be Self-Insured as a new company, there is little chance, to none, of opening your doors for business and companies from outside the US have difficulty with acceptance and adapting to our Guidelines. Actually, children in the US have a multitude of opportunities for risk and challange,it is just not so focused on the playground. It is not that they do not embrace your efforts, it is more often they do not know about them and the sales reps for the US Manufactors are surely not going to be the ones to spread the word. As for more natural and custom designs, monkey bars are still monkey bars whether in bright metal or covered with bark. You should not be so quick to pat yourselves on the back, most of this is, more often than not, about the adults perspective not the children’s anyway.

    March 30, 2013 at 4:57 pm

  3. Robin Sutcliffe said:

    It is interesting to me, as Chair of the UK Play Safety Forum, just how far behind America is on the issue of the balance of risk and safety for children. Is it part of the American make up that ideas from abroad are just not acceptable or worthy of consideration? I know that there are many people in the sector that really laud the work we have done in the UK, but they are simply not being listened to. It is therefore no wonder that there is such a difference between the places for children to play there and here in Europe. And you would think that with the History of America behind them they would be the first to embrace risk, excitement and adventure for their children!

    March 30, 2013 at 11:11 am

  4. Peter Brown said:

    Folks, this is an interesting discussion and perhaps it suggests a broader study between the two societies, i.e. cognitive skills, litigation rates, healthcare costs, standard of living, daily activities, weather, etc. etc…
    Also, where can one find US playground safety standards, ASTM?

    March 29, 2013 at 11:55 am

  5. Paige Johnson said:

    Thanks Bob. I agree, spielplatz vs. playground isn’t just about safety. But it does highlight differences in the overall approach to play in Germany vs. America. In my observation they have a greater acceptance of children in the out of doors and in the public space, and have a greater desire for natural and custom designs. But they also have more tolerance for risk on the playground; not necessarily than Americans themselves, but certainly than what is expressed in the American guidelines!

    March 29, 2013 at 1:39 am

  6. Bob Meihaus said:

    Ending in a sand pit is a problem for access and or egress for the disabled,however,it is true, there are a lot of ways to deal with this issue and still keep the sand. Accessibility is definitely one of the factors that influences the decision makers concerning the incorporation of large sand ares. The utilization or exclusion of sand is often more about maintenance considerations,or as simple a reason as parents and administrations not wanting their children to get sand in their shoes or a little dirty. Lastly, but not least of all, it is about “money”, sand is not expensive,so incorporating large areas of sand does not make the powers that be more profit and the Designers, who most often are nothing more than salesmen working for the manufactors, look innovative or worthwhile. A big sand box with some shovels, buckets and a little water would be too simplified of a solution.
    In response to your other point about the difference between USA and German play areas. I do not think the more rigorous Safety Guidelines in the US are the issue, any really creative Designer can work very successfully within their parameters. In the USA it is more about access, awareness and control. The large manufactors dominate the landscape and there are far fewer alternative providers and qualified independent Designers. My hope would be that,someday, the existance of Playscapes and similar creative resources, would become common knowledge for all concerned parties in the USA.

    March 28, 2013 at 10:32 pm

  7. Paige Johnson said:

    Sand isn’t wheelchair friendly. Regrettably, rather than looking for creative solutions, this often leads to the complete exclusion of sand from new playgrounds.

    March 28, 2013 at 7:04 pm

  8. Meagan said:

    I get the rocks, but why is ending in a sand pit a problem?

    March 28, 2013 at 6:41 pm

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