Grant Park Playground, Monash Australia, Grant Tefler, and more thoughts on Playground Preservation

With thoughts and prayers going out to my new, now drenched but apparently all safe, friends on the East Coast (just a week ago it was such a sunny day on the playground!),  I’d like to continue to talk about this issue of playground preservation.

My mail is running about half and half:  half of the respondents are completely unsentimental in this regard, preferring to focus on installation of new playgrounds rather than caring for old ones.  The other half believe that continually ripping out the old to put in the new is at best misguided and at worst a total waste, and are nostalgic for beloved playgrounds they knew that no longer exist.

Certainly not all playgrounds can or should be preserved.  But some should be.

Before removing a site, its significance (is it of genuine significance in some way to the history of its local site or community, or to the more general history of design or of play, or an important example of an architect or designers body of work?)  and uniqueness (Are there any more of these?  Am I replacing a unique play experience for my community with a standardized one?  Can we get a playground like this back?) should be considered.

And I want to add add to that list community attachment.

The bonds that tie a community to a physical site are tenuous, fragile, more easily broken than made.

They’re difficult to ascertain in focus groups, as any leader of a failed public space construction will tell you. (“We built what they asked for…why won’t they use it?”)

One of those ties that bind is the accretion of history in a place, and the erasure of that history, accumulated carefully and slowly over years, is one reason public spaces fail.  In playgrounds, the accumulation is the memory of fun; of great play experiences tied to that hill, that slide, that rope swing, that a grown-up remembers and brings their child to experience anew.

“I used to love going here as a kid so sad my daughter will never know how good it WAS!!!”

If a community is playing, and playing well, on a site–be it a city park or a self-construct in a vacant lot–then the creation of a new site in that place should respect the accretion of play memory that was already there.  Changes can, and often must, be made.  But the new space should be redolent of the old.

We had a ball there very sad It’s gone and our kids have missed out. They only get to play on the pathetic replacement that is nice to look at but not a patch on the original. It was fun for all ages.”

The quotes and pictures in this post are from a facebook site devoted to the gone-but-never-forgotten Grant Park Playground in Monash, South Australia. (thanks to Alec for the link!) Its amusement-style rides, built by one man, Grant Telfer (who must have been an amazing welder) simultaneously look like enormous fun and a liability-conscious town council’s worst nightmare. 

OMG .. this was just fantastic … drive hundreds of kms to have a day of FREE FUN .. Pity insurance killed it .. wonder how many made a claim when they got injured, doubt if anyone cared .. it was just so much fun :)”

What does it mean for those who make public space, and those who make playgrounds, that the Grant Park Playground– removed for the safety of the citizenry–still inspires such affection?   Does the playground that replaced it have its 300,000 visitors per year or inspire people to drive hundreds of kilometers to play? (note that many commentors on the fb page remember that it was great fun for adults as well as children and the video shows lots of grown-ups at play).

Playgrounds are finally, and justifiably, beginning to be judged and evaluated by the standards of other public spaces, because that’s what they are.  A playground that is not adopted by its community is a waste of time, money, and space.  There’s alot to learn from Grant Park, go ‘like’ them!


4 Responses to “Grant Park Playground, Monash Australia, Grant Tefler, and more thoughts on Playground Preservation”

  1. Paul said:

    Good to see the fun police have selfeshly dismanteled another piece of history and fun. What wil they want next,No contact sport or events.If it is such an issue for these do-gooders, they are quite entitle to not use them, unlike the option they have left us.

    June 04, 2013 at 9:12 pm

  2. Alec Duncan said:

    A wonderful article, Paige, on what must really have been an outstanding play facility. In the 90’s I played on a much smaller playground in Katanning, Western Australia that was clearly inspired by Grant Park. As an adult it was fantastic fun – really exciting and challenging, and one thing I noticed was that children self-assessed their risk – they would gravitate to the equipment they felt was within their competence.

    That playground is still there but I have been told that many of the structures have been removed. I’m not sure if that is about safety, or just that the tiny town can’t afford the cost of maintenance.

    Your questions about playground preservation are important ones and need to be widely debated. I’ve seen the destruction of a wonderful playground in Perth – a lovingly-constructed “natural” playground built long before the modern natural playground movement – replaced with a corporate-sponsored playground with not a tenth of the character or play-value. It broke my heart. Yet there was (as far as I know) no debate at all as to whether the original playground was worthy of preservation, and I doubt if the idea was even canvased.

    Thanks for giving me credit in your article, and the link to my site – much appreciated. Alec.

    November 19, 2012 at 12:04 pm

  3. Rosie said:

    Oh yes. That WAS an amazing playground. The replacement makes me so sad I plotted my course home via another route so I wouldn't end my holiday on a downer!

    November 02, 2012 at 9:53 am

  4. The Beauty Edit said:

    What a lovely and inspiring blog! I have often searched to no avail for a directory of cool playgrounds around the world – this is better! I am looking forward to reading more of your previous posts and future ones!

    November 01, 2012 at 10:47 am

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