This was originally written by InspiredPlay’s Danielle Fong-Aiu and published in the August 2016 edition of Building Management Hawaii Magazine.
I grew up in the late 80s/early 90s. As a young child, I recall spending countless hours every day after school playing outside. My friends and I rode our bikes to each other’s houses or to our favorite gathering places. We spent more of our time running around our neighborhood than we did inside our actual houses. We had some neighbors who would hear us outside and bring us ice pops on a hot day. We had others who would invite us over for dinner (with our parents’ permission, of course). If I fell and scraped my knee, I had no problem knocking on the door of the closest house to ask for a band-aid. I grew up in a COMMUNITY where, even though I’ve long since moved away, I have a deep connection to the place and people.
In today’s generation, we are seeing a global “shift” in the childhood experience and relationships to their neighborhoods and communities. Environmental and social risks seem conducive to less walking and biking among school aged children. Increased parental perception and fear of crime may be discouraging the types of outdoor activities that we built our childhoods around. Play experiences have moved indoors, and play activities have become less social, imaginative, physical, and meaningful.
A child’s life and future are directly affected by the environment by which he or she is brought up. The relationship between physical inactivity and the rising rate of childhood obesity has been well recognized. The disconnect between children and their community may be credited for increased rates of vandalism and misdemeanor crime. To combat these issues plaguing our new generation, it’s important that we think about how to build a sense of COMMUNITY back into our neighborhoods, and bring kids and families back outside to enjoy the place and people where they live.
Whether you are an apartment manager, on the board of your homeowners association, or design and build neighborhoods, your job is to foster communities. You are serving hundreds of children who are developing, maturing, and growing within the communities you are creating. You have a chance – no, a responsibility – to support their wellness by providing high-quality playgrounds and outdoor fitness opportunities.
Here are several reasons why investing into this area can enhance your community and generate a return on your investment:
- Play & fitness opportunities can help increase tenant retention rates. Creating memories is what allows people to build roots.
- Communities increase in value when people care about the place they live. Residents will be more proactive about keeping it beautiful, which increases the desirability of your property.
- Play & fitness equipment enhances the aesthetics of your community. Adding play can take an unused or underused outdoor space and help people re-imagine it as a communal space.
Adding play or recreational equipment is adding an amenity to your community’s list of features. These amenities speak to distinct populations differently with the same end, to build community. Children and families see friendships and playtime with a play structure. Adults see wellness with fitness equipment. People who enjoy entertaining see gathering spaces for parties with outdoor shelters.
If your community is ready to add or enhance its play or recreational features, here are some best practices to consider:
- Design a playground that is engaging and high in “play value”. It should serve the widest variety of ages and abilities, and take considerations of both physical and developmental design strategy.
- Make sure your playground supports safety. It should be given enough space to allow for proper safety surfacing use zones. Also consider proximity to other amenities (pools, bbqs) and roads.
- Integrate the living landscape with the playground equipment elements to encourage more diverse play and nature awareness.
- Keep it comfortable and family friendly by providing shaded seating areas nearby so that parents may supervise. The more comfortable the parent, the longer the child gets to play!
- Make your playground the “hub” of your community by utilizing it for community programming.