Before we leave our brief excursion into rooftop playgrounds, take a thoughtful look at the 1957 proposal from Mechanix Illustrated to put baseball diamonds, swimming pools, and boxing rings onto urban rooftops; their “bold plan to fight juvenile delinquency and get kids off the streets”.
The plan itself is interesting enough, but the fear-mongering in the article is extreme: references to “danger-hour” when the “nightly muggings would begin…and young girls would be afraid to venture out alone. Beatings were commonplace and gang wars, fiercely fought with knives and zip-guns, were a frequent occurrence….teen-age terrorism is costing you many hundreds of additional tax dollars every year, not to mention the hours of worry for the safety of self, family and property.”
Playgrounds began, remember, as an element of social reform, providing a playful alternative for street urchins by making sand piles in public parks in the late nineteenth century. The fear then was of petty theft and disorder, and the urchins were generally quite young; older children were forced into some sort of labor to support themselves and their families. This 1950s document displays a different sort of fear, of an older child and a more violent crime, but providing a play ‘landscape’ is still seen as an answer. There is a modern parallel in the way cities view their public parks, and particularly their skate parks.
But the ‘Playgrounds in the Sky’ proposed here seem like isolation wards, and it is doubtful that they would have been any more successful than were the high-rise tenements of the same era, now deemed to have been dramatic failures of misguided social engineering.
Our playground enemies du jour are childhood obesity and accidental injury, and still sometimes teen delinquency. But the answers won’t be found by appealing to people’s fears.