Playgrounds used to be somewhere to send the kids when parents needed a well-deserved rest, although they have now evolved into educational experiences, providing engaging and meaningful play opportunities. It’s not only the equipment that has advanced to meet these new priorities, but also the surfaces, which are largely driven by a community that has become more risk adverse.
Let’s take a look at how playgrounds have evolved from the dusty swing sets of the early 60’s to become a family entertainment venue that both adults and children can enjoy.
Playgrounds in the 60s and 70s
This is a time when kids were quite happy to spend all day exploring their local park. There were swing sets, see-saws, climbing frames and slides, stone turrets and cement pipes, all with no thought to the safety of kids (how many times did you return home with skinned knees and elbows?). Surfaces were made from concrete, bricks, gravel, or hard packed earth (the latter likely covered in dusty grass) and equipment was often constructed from steel pipes.
Playgrounds in the 80s and 90s
The cohesiveness of playgrounds, which was previously non-existent, started to become more of an idea than a priority. Construction materials moved towards timber frames resulting in structures such as forts being built, linking to slides, and climbing frames. These were spaces where kids could start at one end and climb all the way through to the other end. At the same time, however, the introduction of Australian Standards quickly focused on the lack of safety in playground surfaces with a move from grass and dirt to soft-fall surfaces, for example bark chips and sand.
These ‘softer’ surfaces, however, were not conducive to wheelchairs so rubberised surfaces started to take prominence. Towards the end of the 90s, people discovered the joys of plastics which led to an abundance of playgrounds made with colourful and exciting play elements. The flexibility of plastic could create any number of different playground structures, however, the combination of Australian Standards and a more risk adverse community led to a growing focus on safety and standardised designs.
For example, railings were installed in areas where kids could accidently fall, hardware or welds that might cause lacerations were redesigned or eliminated and equipment with gaps that could entangle clothing were redesigned. At the end of the 90s, both risk and safety were the two driving factors for playground design.
Playgrounds in the 00s
The turn of the new century brought with it a focus on inclusivity, sharing and engagement. This led to themed playgrounds that were aimed at different age groups with more attention paid to soft-fall surfaces and shade. More thought was given to landscaping and plantings, as part of an overhaul of the entire family orientated playground theme.
Shared experiences also came to the forefront where slides were placed side by side and swings were designed with multiple seats so children could swing alongside each other.
Playgrounds of the future
The future will see playgrounds as being a destination where both adults and children are welcome. These community spaces are already being redesigned with gas BBQs, picnic spaces, tables, benches, and even toilet facilities. High-tech, soft-fall surfaces composed of rubber or synthetic turf will ensure protection from serious injuries.
The playgrounds of our youth will be seen to have evolved from lacklustre, dusty pipe frames into welcoming spaces for children to play, weddings to be celebrated and places for family and friends to enjoy the outdoors within an urban setting.