Playground Risk and Kramer vs. Kramer

When I was in NYC last month, I was honored to be part of a round-table discussion on the topic of “Balancing Creativity and Risk In Playground Design”, courtesy of Jane-Clark Chermayeff and Architectural Playground Equipment.  I’m preparing a series of posts on the topic, but one of the questions I have is when and how and why playground risk took on such an outsized importance in the public mind.  As I pointed out in the meeting, no one makes a fuss if their child breaks their arm on the soccer field but on the monkey bars, well, a lawsuit is inevitable.  Why is ‘play’ risk so different than ‘sport’ risk?

And did it all begin (at least in the US) with Kramer vs. Kramer?  I can’t take credit for this cheeky but brilliant idea…my NYC friend Mike suggested it in a follow-up discussion of the meeting.  Watch the 1979 clip, and leave your comments about playground risk; I’ll incorporate them into the posts I’m writing.  (And do note the vintage playground equipment in the clip:  classic Robert Moses jungle gym mixed with new modernist climbers.)


3 Responses to “Playground Risk and Kramer vs. Kramer”

  1. Erik said:

    It seems to me the imbalance in attitude between sports safety and play safety is related to the fact that playgrounds are usually designed spaces with man-made structures. If a child is injured on a piece of equipment that someone else has made, then the immediate assumption is (at least here in the U.S.) that the builder/owner is legally liable for the injury. In sports, the danger of injury is often far more likely than on a playground, but we tend to think of those as behavior-based rather than equipment-based. When sports injuries are attributable to equipment failures or malfunctions, lawsuits are often likely.

    We are a very litigious society, and when we can hold someone else legally responsible for our own misfortune, we are quite likely to do so (esp. when the possibility of monetary compensation is involved.)

    Playgrounds are usually unmonitored, and the organizations that build them are risk averse. As a result, the designs usually focus on safety over innovation. Obviously, these are not mutually exclusive concepts, but an overemphasis on one is usually at the expense of the other.

    March 13, 2014 at 1:54 pm

  2. Robin Sutcliffe said:

    In Britain I believe the disproportionate response to risk in playgrounds began in the late 60s and early 70s with the strengthening of consumer campaigns around safety. Certainly it was in the mid 70s that Sutcliffe Play produced the first rubber swing seats and surfacing, which by the middle of the 80s, went on to be enshrined in new British Standards, that at one point required the maximum height of any equipment to be 2.5 meters! In the UK the fight back began rather slowly in the mid 90s with formation of the Play Safety Forum and the publication of Ball and King’s study of accidents in playgrounds.

    The fight back here is proving moderately successful with publication by the Health and Safety Executive of their High Level Statement on managing risk in play that was triggered by the Government. This supports the concept of Risk Benefit Assessment first put forward by the Play safety Forum in their publication Managing Risk in Play: implementation guide”, which has just been republished.

    December 09, 2013 at 6:33 am

  3. Sheila said:

    It worried me more that the dad ran across many lanes of busy traffic (without looking for cars) as he raced to the emergency room.

    I don’t like to see children hurt anymore than anyone, but there is something to be said for allowing children to learn the limits of what their bodies can do as they grow and change. This has to do as much with brain development as it does with body development.

    We don’t help kids by taking away every last risk in their lives.

    December 07, 2013 at 8:53 am

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