Mercer Island’s Adventure Playground: A Precedent of Healthy Urbanism

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Adventure Playgrounds, originally designed in Denmark by C. Sorensen, invite children to build and shape their environment according to their own ideas and social experimentation. As Seattle grows and urban neighborhoods become increasingly dense, it is extremely important for the public to put aside open space for unstructured play where kids can experience nature-based education. The original adventure playgrounds are spaces where children can build, climb, dress up, play games, celebrate unstructured play, and even light fires. The supervision is usually provided by adult play-workers who support the children’s play, access risk, and help out without directing or controlling. Currently, there are 80 adventure playgrounds in London and the Mercer Island Adventure Playground marks the third in the United States. Not only do adventure playgrounds allow for a decidedly beneficial unstructured and thus more imaginative environment, this model can be a healthier economic and social alternative, requiring less capital investment than the average prescribed play areas while reaping greater developmental benefits especially for kids without access to open spaces. Mercer Island recently constructed a low cost Adventure Playground with enthusiastic support and the logistics are simple: children at the Mercer Island Adventure Playground sign one waiver and can be signed in and out by a supervising adult. Forming a loose public-private partnership, the surrounding community donated a significant amount of the physical materials and the playground is maintained by Mercer Parks & Recreation Department.

The City of Seattle Public Parks Department could find areas in existing green spaces, such as Volunteer Park, to build low cost adventure playgrounds with wood, basic fasteners, soil, and other non–toxic materials. Ultimately, adventure playgrounds encourage a more natural play that tests kid’s creative abilities and problem solving skills, such as how to build structures or test natural phenomena. Play of this sort can benefit children mentally and physically, as children stretch their bodies, use their muscles, and broaden their imaginations. Developmentally, with the surge in diagnosed attention issues, there’s been much argument supporting the idea that kids with ADHD show higher levels of concentration through interaction with the natural environment (Richard Louv, Last Child In the Woods). All in all, play proves to be children’s healthiest form of intellectual and physical growth and as the trend has been toward digital-based learning and entertainment, adventure playgrounds can offer both a low cost and instinctual space for kids to engage with each other without the constraints of “prescribed” play.

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