Case Study: Garden City Play Environment 

The Story

The creation of play spaces in the public realm has been reduced to a standardized approach to creating playgrounds with a heavy reliance on catalogue equipment.  While these playgrounds may be fun initially, they rarely sustain a child’s interest on repeated visits. These playgrounds are often underutilized, offer limited play value and are poorly integrated with their sites.  The goal for this project was to develop a site-specific solution for a play environment that connects children with natural systems, enhances physical and cognitive development and encourages imaginative and spontaneous play and exploration.

Garden City Play Environment | Fall 2013

Garden City Play Environment | Fall 2013


The Context

Garden City Play Environment is nestled within a large community park in Richmond’s City Centre.  This neighbourhood has undergone rapid transformation from a primarily single family residential and rural character to a distinct higher density neighbourhood.  

Garden City Park serves as a backyard for this growing urban community and plays an essential role for children and parents alike.  The site is adjacent to Anderson Elementary School and is within walking distance to two other schools.  The larger park is characterized by forests, a large pond, wetlands and an arboretum.  

Project Type: Playscape

Scope: Site analysis, community engagement, concept development, documentation and construction review.

Date: Completed 2008

Location: Richmond, British Columbia

Size: 1 acre

Client: City of Richmond

 

Design Solution

The park is an organic, flowing space where the structures and systems combine to create a setting that invokes the natural world and reflects the regional character of the Pacific Northwest. Interaction with elements and processes such as insects, water, streams, ponds, sand, salvaged tree limbs and ribbons of perennial vegetation provides city kids with an essential connection to larger natural systems, and nurtures within them a sense of responsibility to protect their environment. 

Space2place undertook a collaborative design approach that included public workshops and design exercises with children, which were used to gain a clear understanding of the specific needs of the community and to promote awareness of the findings among child-care professionals and decision-makers.  This input, along with leading research on outdoor play and site analysis, was incorporated into the development of park features. Early on, the consultant team identified a distinction between hazard and risk; the play environment was designed to allow children to experience risks and test their boundaries without exposure to hazards. The result is a dynamic place that provides open-ended play experiences that encourage imagination and creative play while meeting the emotional, cognitive and physical needs of children.


Impact

The play environment is unlike any other public space in North America when it opened in 2008.  It is well-used and well-loved throughout the year and has become a destination for families throughout the region, benefiting the municipality with an enhanced reputation, which in turn attracts further investment in the community and fosters economic and social growth.

We were inspired to do something that hadn’t been done before, and it was clear to us that the City of Richmond was on board.  During the course of the project, innovative design for children was the top priority and it has had a ripple effect - the project has captured the attention of the design community and the media and has become a catalyst for other playground projects in Canada and beyond.  In addition, the continued popularity of the park both within the immediate community and as a regional destination is a testament to the success of this approach.

The Garden City play environment is unique because it responds to its distinctive context, develops awareness for natural systems and provides a rich diversity of play and learning experiences that absorb children for hours. The process implemented here has stimulated new design approaches for children's play. Concepts such as nature-based play and integration of play with public spaces are changing society's perception of traditional playgrounds. Communities are realizing that cities work best when they work well for children.  


Key Lessons

Engage Directly with End Users

We quickly realized there were few precedents available for this type of project.  Therefore, we held a series of workshops with local elementary-aged children to ask them how they like to play.  The results were encouraging; while traditional elements such as slides and swings were popular, there were also many ideas that integrated water and natural elements.   This input, along with leading research on outdoor play and analysis of the site, was incorporated into the development of program elements for the park. 

Open Ended Play  

Our society's obsession over minimizing risk is the primary cause for the standardized design of most of today's playgrounds.  Early on, the consultant team identified a distinction between hazard and risk.  The play environment was designed to allow children to experience risks and test their boundaries without exposure to hazard.  The result is a place that provides open-ended play experiences that encourage imagination and creative play while meeting the emotional, cognitive and physical needs of children.

Experience of Place

The park is an organic, flowing space where the structures and systems combine to create a setting that invokes the natural world and reflects the regional character of the Pacific Northwest. Interaction with elements and processes such as insects, water, streams, ponds, sand, salvaged tree limbs and ribbons of perennial vegetation provides city kids with an essential connection to larger natural systems, and nurtures in them a responsibility to protect these systems. 


A good introduction to our approach for the design of this park.