Nature Play

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Custom designed climbing/play snag at Discovery Pond, Tacoma Nature Center, Tacoma, WA

Recently Mike Perfetti, senior associate, presented at the Washington Recreation & Park Association’s (WRPA) Annual Conference & Trade Show, held this year in Vancouver, WA.  WRPA’s mission is to promote excellence of current and future Parks and Recreation professionals through advocacy, education, networking, and training.

Mike’s presentation, Nature-based Playgrounds: From Design to Operation, provided insight for park managers, staff, and students interested in implementing nature play opportunities in public parks.

Background
Today there is substantial amount of awareness and supporting research regarding the unhealthy state of many American children.  Since the release of Richard Louv’s best-selling book, Last Child in the Woods: Saving Our Children from Nature-Deficit Disorder (Algonquin Books of Chapel Hill, 2005), it has become a priority among parents and park managers to help children play safely outdoors and, at the same time, benefit from the teachings of the natural world.

In his book, Louv cites the well-known obesity epidemic among American children today and the lack of exposure to the natural world, which he posits inhibits nature appreciation, understanding, and survival skills, as well as physical conditioning.  He believes this lack of exposure to the outdoors has to do with parents’ and guardians’ real and perceived fears, as well as a high level of exposure to time-consuming pursuits of gaming and video watching.

Mike’s presentation advocates for the implementation of nature-based play opportunities within public spaces.  Mike describes two nature play models:

 Model 1: The Informal Free Play Model

Mathison Park nature play features in Burien, WA

In this model, nature play takes place on a piece of public land set aside for that purpose, or within which it is an allowed use, but the amount of introduced play components is kept to a minimum.  This model represents nature play at its core, allowing children to play in an essentially undeveloped, naturalistic environment, and is also beneficial in terms of being inexpensive to implement.

Model 2: The Fabricated Nature Play Model

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Tree house structure at Discovery Pond, Tacoma Nature Center

The fabricated nature play model relies on introducing fabricated play components into an area, which provide some degree of nature-oriented play and/or learning.  This is useful in a number of applications, such as sites that lack significant natural components, or where maintenance, liability or supervision may be issues.  This can be a particularly effective model in terms of appealing to a great number of people, and can be adapted to a wide variety of sites and conditions.

Case Study

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Discovery Pond at the Tacoma Nature Center

Mike presented J.A. Brennan’s design for the Discovery Pond Nature-based Playground at the Tacoma Nature Center as the major case study in understanding how to implement nature-based play in a park.  He highlighted the need for outlining a program with goals and objectives and listening to stakeholder input as key components to creating a successful nature play area.

Discovery Pond is centered around a recirculating water feature and features an array of fabricated natural-looking play elements that serve children of all ages and is ADA accessible.  The design carefully restores the site and creates a natural appearance that complements the Nature Center’s site and programming.

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Japan Trip Part 1: Tokyo Observations

By Mike Perfetti

This spring I spent about 10 incredible days in the Land of the Rising Sun – Japan.  In Japan, I found a complex story of a culture and landscape – a country full of contrasts and contradictions evident in its landscape, culture, and history.  The island of Honshu is home to the world’s largest city, Tokyo.  This first installment of my trip journal is about Tokyo–where my trip started and ended–an incredibly immense web of buildings, tracks and roads that has unalterably reshaped my perspective on cities.

Tokyo’s metropolitan area population is the largest in the world at astounding 32,450,000!1 The population density of 10,491 people per square mile is nearly 20 times as dense as that of my hometown, Seattle, at 543 people/square mile2.  Tokyo is a bustling, if not overwhelming city connected by a complex array of trains and subways; Cars are present of course, but the design of Tokyo makes owning and storing a car inconvenient and expensive.  In Tokyo, there are 308 cars per 1,000 people3, compared with Seattle, which has about 743 cars per 1,000 people.4

The immensity of Tokyois well-known.  But how livable is Tokyo?  Monocle’s 2011 “Most Livable Cities Index” compared 25 cities looking at criteria such as safety, international connectivity, climate/sunshine, quality of architecture, public transportation, tolerance, environmental issues and access to nature, urban design, business conditions, and medical care.  Tokyo placed 9th; Seattle placed 25th.5

My own experience tells me that Tokyo is an active, exciting and convenient city.  Goods and retail aren’t confined only to business districts; seemingly every street has a convenient store, izakaya (pub), and market.  Tokyoites, by nature of the city’s density, deal with conflict and intrusions of personal space constantly.  It was interesting to see how Tokyoites are unwary to such encounters; they display an amazing tolerance for such things – a matter of survival and sanity I would suppose.  Road rage is seemingly absent.   The Japanese people are incredibly polite and share a culture of collectivism. .

In some ways, Seattle cannot be compared to Tokyo; but, to me there is a lesson for us as we develop into a bigger and denser City — that it can be done on a scale beyond what we’ll ever see here, and can be done well.   We’ll have to consider our dependence on cars and our notion of personal territory to make this work.

As much as anything, though, my observations of Tokyo have reinforced my conviction that public open spaces, parks and access to nature are essential to creating healthy and livable cities.  Tokyo is beginning to embrace waterfronts as open space, and historic temples and the occasional park provide essential open spaces for people.  In Seattle, we have a unique appreciation and relationship with our sublime landscape; environmental stewardship and community are vital components of our culture, and our commitment to parks and open space is strong, giving our city amazing potential to become one of the great cities of the world.

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Sources

1 Wikipedia, “List of metropolitan areas by population”

2 Wikipedia, “Seattle Metropolitan Area”

3WEC “Energy for Megacities” Study”: Tokyo case study by Paula Restrepo Cadavid, revised by Pierre-Noel Giraud 07/09/2010

4 Wikipedia, “World’s most livable cities”

5Metro Areas Ranked by Vehicles Per 1,000 Residents (construction, school)”