This week I’ve run across three items that resonated deeply with my on-going interest in SLOAP (Spaces Left Over After Planning)
The first is an article by Penny Wilson entitled Beyond the gaudy fence. She wrote this as a way of explaining the design concepts behind her work on play areas associated with the 2012 Olympics. In it she recalls her own play history and the works of Lady Allen and Aldo van Eyck, elegantly reminding us of their deep commitment to what we now call “wild play”. She speaks eloquently about the play that liminal spaces, those small areas that live in the margins of our urban environments that have traditionally been the venue for kid’s hang outs.
The second is a new book The Accidental Playground by Daniel Campo. The book profiles the “occupation” of the Brooklyn Eastern District Terminal, an abandoned property that has flowered into a rich environment for self expression and play. While not a spot primarily for kids, BEDT is an excellent example of a liminal space.
Image (c) Reuters
The third is Burning Man. Once again we have an example of a liminal space. In this case 68,000 people creating a vibrant self-policing city in the middle of the desert.
What do these examples, separated by so much space, time and scale have to do with each other. Just this, left to their own devices people tend to just want to have fun and they can do so peacefully. We live in over planned, over structured and fearful times. We need to hold these examples high and also to our hearts. To be witness for the inherent goodness of people is essential if we are to act as a counter balance to those who would control with fear.
This week’s blog from Mike Lanza talks about sending kids off to school is like sending them to prison. As an occasional student of sociology I agree with his take on this. One of the first things I noticed when I started doing schoolyard playgrounds was the lack of kid’s toys. When I asked what happened to all the stuff kids carry in their pockets the teacher I was talking with pulled open the bottom drawer of her desk to reveal an explosion of toys literally spilling over its sides. When I asked about the collection she brightly said “Oh, these are just the ones they haven’t claimed.” The excuse was that when kids brought stuff to school the kids would fight over them. What total non-sense! I vividly remember playing marbles at nearly every recess. I brought gliders and little paper parachutes to school all the time. Most other kids did as well.
Have kid’s changed? Are kids now so toy crazy that they will fight each other for possession? Or have we become so fearful of kids learning to negotiate their social relationships that we have to expunge any opportunity for this essential skill to be learned?
I think you know the answer to that question. Now the hard question, how do we turn this around?