I guess the kids are different now

I’m not very old at all, but I’m old enough to have caught the tail end of a era in playground equipment design. This period was typified by danger. Metal slippery dips that one could cook an egg (or buttocks) on and which would hurl you far into the grass or merry go rounds that spun wildly and led to subsiduary entertainments like “find my finger”.

I understand why this period ended. Things like public liability and changing social preferences for non maimed children led to a new generation of equipment that was brightly coloured, plastic and devoid of risk. The most danger one faced was the risk of a static shock after edging slowly down a 1 metre slide. Very boring, and very explicable.

Now playground equipment tends to look like this.

This perplexes me.

I don’t find this very fun looking at all. I say that in the same way I don’t find it very erotic. It doesn’t seem to be something to which you would even consider applying the concept.

How on earth do you actually play on it? Is this the local council’s ultimate anti-litigation scheme whilst still fulfilling oublic expectations of playgrounds? If they create something on which no child will play, then no child will be injured playing on it.

Or have the internets and steroids in chicken and sex in music videos changed these kids in ways that even a young person cannot understand?

About Richard Tsukamasa Green

Richard Tsukamasa Green is an economist. Public employment means he can't post on policy much anymore. Also found at @RHTGreen on twitter.
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Andrew
Andrew
11 years ago

I’ve never seen many kids being attracted to the sorts of things in the photo, but in Brisbane the council seems to be getting this right. The metal/plastic boxes are gradually being torn down and replaced with more imaginative structures that kids seem to actually love. Often wooden, for some reason.

There are also lots of stuctures in the city playgrounds made of intertwined ropes forming a sort of dense three dimensional spider web, which kids swarm to. They’re great because although they can be fairly tall, the ropes themselves act as breaks to falls so they’re fairly safe, yet they do actually encourage kids to stretch themselves and take what they perceive to be a few risks. The biggest one I’ve found is at New Farm Park (you can see it at if you scroll down a bit) but there are many others, with more appearing all the time.

As you’ll see in the photo older kids – much older – can have fun on them too. :-)

daddy dave
daddy dave
11 years ago

I take my kid to the park every day; and have for a couple of years. I do it mostly to get him out of the house and do some exercise, since the park itself is boring. And I can tell you that playgrounds everywhere are empty, almost all the time.
However, the ‘safe’ design isn’t the problem. That structure in your photo might look boring but it creates a lot of possibilities for quite difficult, skillful climbing.
The real problem is the size of the playground in that picture. There’s one pathetic, solitary structure; and similar sized playgrounds are without doubt around the corner and down the road, duplicated 20 or more times in the near vicinity. There seems to be a philosophy in councils that there should be a playground within walking distance of everyone; and that each playground should be puny.
When I was in the US, I was in this town that had one huge MF of a playground, out of town next to a small lake. It had about 8 slides, four climbing thingies, four sets of swings, and a few other bits and pieces. It had kids all over it, every day. It was really popular. So what they need to do is pack up all the equipment and create big, fun playgrounds that kids can explore. not thousands of little “slide and two swings” playgrounds that nobody uses.

Gummo Trotsky
11 years ago

Best play facilities I’ve seen recently were the children’s play areas set up at the National Gallery of Victoria, when the Dali exhibition was on. The thing in the photo looks like a botched attempt to channel Joan Miro.

derrida derider
derrida derider
11 years ago

The designer is clearly depending on children’s imaginations. Just because you can’t see how it can be anything but safe and boring doesn’t mean the kids won’t find a way to make it terrifyingly dangerous and therefore suitably exciting.

Mind you, the kids may have to get the older ones to do some modifications to it first (eg adding a skateboard ramp on top of it). But from the coucil’s POV that doesn’t matter because it puts them in the legal clear anyway.

MikeM
MikeM
11 years ago

I saw a report recently (which I can’t now find) that Australia and New Zealand are steadily drifting apart on matters relating to public risk. This is because New Zealand has a universal injury compensation scheme and has substantially abolished injury-related civil law suits.

The focus of the NZ scheme is not lump sum payments but funding for rehabilitation services and ongoing support payments relating to the seriousness of the resulting disability.

The article made the point that activities such as bungy jumping could never have originated in Australia, as no insurance company would have written the massive policy that founders of the business would have required. That being the case, I assume that children’s playground furniture fashions are significantly diverging. Is any reader in a position to determine whether that is so?

BUNSEN
BUNSEN
11 years ago

Years ago I worked with a bloke making pedal powered playground equipment.
The principle was good inasmuch as the velocities achieved matched exactly how much pedal power could be input by the victim/operator.
Of course all this went pear-shaped when bigger kids or adults climbed on board the equipment while little junior was holding on for dear life on the other side of the satellite.
We were doing pretty well until George Bush1 invented Gulf War1.
Petrol prices/fuel prices hit the roof; councils had to re-budget and I’d like to believe that in consequence, at least some young lives were saved.
Kismet !!

conrad
conrad
11 years ago

Speaking of public risk, another consequence of this in Australia seems to be the proliferation of entirely useless warning signs. I can’t think of anywhere else that has more of them.

Nicholas Gruen
Admin
Nicholas Gruen(@nicholas-gruen)
11 years ago

Actually Richard, paradoxically enough I find quite a few of the more modern kids equipment quite dangerous. On the one you picture above that stuff to the right of the strange bobbly, wonky, warped, inverted cone is presumably there as a challenge to climb up. And it looks to me that it would be pretty easy to fall off. And note that the various planes that you climb up are secured by rope rather than struts, which means they can move around in surprising ways – well ways that surprise a six year old anyway.

In Queanbeyan about three or four years ago they put up a spider web climbing thing a bit like this.

It has bits hanging off it and was extremely easy to fall off and to hurt yourself.

They took it down after a year or so. In Port Melbourne they’ve just put in a flying fox. It’s great, but I expect it will be gone the first time someone threatens to sue.

doctorpat
doctorpat
11 years ago

For real fun and danger you have to go back to climbing trees and making your own slippery slide out of a grassy hill and bits of cardboard (or a wet tarpaulin with detergent on it, that can be awesome.)

The unexpected side effects are:
1. An increase in danger
2. An increase in children’s creativity
3. Unemployment for social leaches of lawyers, because who can sue the designer of a tree?*

I’m not sure which effect would most annoy the wowsers responsible for the changes in the first place.

*In a decade or two, increased availability of genetic engineering tools will mean that we CAN sue the designer of a tree. I for one am looking forward to 250 meter tall monsters that are rapidly growing, suck a 1000 tonnes of carbon out of the atmosphere to grow, and are easy to climb.

Chris Lloyd
Chris Lloyd
11 years ago

We now live in a society that is obsessed with risk minimization. When my gas cylinder is refilled its date is carefully checked to see if it is 10 years old. My $650 lawnmower had a problem after 18 months. No repairman would touch it – because Australian safety standards prevented them even trying to repair the main drive shaft. I borrowed my brother-in-laws welder and fixed it myself. That was three years ago. I was visited in my office by our OHS officer who noted that I might trip on a bunched section of carpet and that the highest shelf might tempt me to climb on the bench risking a fall. They fixed the carpet and brought me a ladder which cluttered my office until I put it down in the carpark.

“If they create something on which no child will play, then no child will be injured playing on it.” Quite right. Just a Vicroads want us to drive no faster than someone can walk. They will then accomplish their mission of a zero road toll.

James Farrell
James Farrell(@james-farrell)
11 years ago

I don’t know if that piece of equipment is particulalry representative, Richard. There was a fad for those ridiculous contraptions about ten years ago, but I haven’t seen any installed recently. Most of the newer playgrounds seem to have pretty well thought out equipment.

Edward Mariyani-Squire
Edward Mariyani-Squire
11 years ago

I find it hard to get worked up about this sort of issue due to my childhood – which was entirely devoid of man-made climbing structures on account of living ‘out of town’ in the bush.

The entertainment-objects my brother and I utilised usually consisted of ‘found objects’ which could be imaginative construed as weapons with which we could poke each other’s eyes out.

I look forward to the day when a public park consists of a large, lightly wooded area featuring nothing more than a big pile of sticks.

BUNSEN
BUNSEN
11 years ago

While on the subject of risky playgrounds and the guardians of the Nanny Society hell-bent on ensuring the safety of children –
Could someone please explain how, in my city, about an acre of an emitter of high field strength non-ionising radiation could be built right next to a kid’s skatebowl?
I’m talking about seriously heavy duty Tesla type equipment stepping down scores of kilovolts to a mere 11 kilovolts to distribute that about the town.
In layman’s terms I’m talking about big time EMF and an ozone flux that can be carried downwind in certain weather conditions.
I’m saying that the prevailing weather here usually has the wind blowing across this site and over the playground.

Someone above mentioned warning signs being overprevalent in Oz. and indeed there are warning signs about this installation.
They mention the usual high voltage stuff but nothing about the invisible and constant radiation risk.
There may be a placard there saying something like – ‘Hey kid don’t climb over the fence: you might get zapped’.
One thing is for sure there won’t be a warning about the risk of non-ionising radiation simply because our relevant bureaucracies refuse to recognise the standards adopted by civilised nations.

I find it unconscionable that putting such an installation beside a playground offers headstrong kids the immediate challenge of climbing the fence – after all, they’re pretty headstrong kids to be there in the first place, riding skateboards, etc, up and over those concrete ramps and curves.
To compound that not inconsiderable immediate risk by denying the long term insidious risk is callous irresponsibility beyond reason.

Chris Lloyd
Chris Lloyd
11 years ago

Stop press: I went to Big W today to buy a bike. They are all assemble yourself. There was on on the shop floor alrady assembled. I asked him if I could have that one for the same price. Answer no. Public liability. It might not have been assembled correctly. I can promise you that it is less safe for muggins here to assemble it!

Nicholas Gruen
Admin
Nicholas Gruen(@nicholas-gruen)
11 years ago

Nice one!

Nicholas Gruen
Admin
Nicholas Gruen(@nicholas-gruen)
11 years ago

I don’t really find the design of what you’ve posted ‘inexplicable’. The producers obviously thought it looked good, and it looks OK. The bobbles might also invite attempts to climb (again demonstrating that it’s not particularly safe, because they could easily fall and brain themselves).

Andrew
Andrew
11 years ago

“Andrew and Nicholas – Those net things struck me as a great way to tangle throats and limbs to deadly effect, so I am surprised at their profusion..”

Have you actually climbed on one? If you do you get a different picture – the ropes are fairly thick and tough, and not at all liable to wrap themselves around throats, but at the same time they have enough give in them to absorb an impact without doing too much damage. If a kid falls from one of these things the first thing they will do is flail wildly, which is precisely the right way to get snagged on the ropes which will stop the fall before it gets out of hand. Kid will be a bit sore and sorry, possibly with a bit of rope burn and a wrenched joint at worst, but you’d have to work pretty hard to do serious injury.

That said I’ve never actually seen a fall occur, and kids flock to these things. A small one was installed at a little park near my place six months ago, and my 5 & 3 year olds can’t get enough of it – partly because it’s fun in its own right, and partly because every other kid in the neighbourhood can’t get enough of it either, so there are always other kids there to play with. Previously there was an old metal and plastic box thingy which was permanently empty. Some councils are getting it right these days!