This is not an ordinary slide you see before you. This is the slide that three-year-old me slid down on the way to buy shoes. It was magic. The anticipation of arriving at the store that you entered via a slide is so vivid and alive that it is as if it happened yesterday, instead of (gulp) 59 years ago. This piece of magical history still exists in Towson, Maryland on the corner of Belvedere and York, although now it is not where little children go to buy shoes (and apparently to get a hair cut). The site is now a nightclub or a restaurant with an owner brilliant enough to keep the slide! Guess where I'm going soon?
I am obsessed with creating playful urban environments that fill the hearts of children with wonder. When I try to explain to people that I am not talking about a citywide playground, but instead moments of play welcoming and surprising children of all ages, I tell them the story of the shoe store slide. Unexpected. Unnecessary. Totally magical. And, very, very memorable.
Cities are becoming more and more densely populated these days and that trend is expected to continue well into the future. Many who move into the city are singles, so why make an effort to design playfulness into the streets, plazas, corners, and, yes, shoe stores? Well, you know what happens when a bunch of singles land in close proximity to each other. They fall in love. They have babies. The babies become kids, and kids need to play (actually, babies need to play, too, and so do grownups.) Rather than making them move to the suburbs, we need city life to welcome the children.
I would love nothing more than for my grandchildren- and yours - to have playful experiences that result in memories such as mine. But, it will take making changes to our priorities in how we design our cities. It will take city officials, developers, builders, designers, and shoe store owners with the vision to include play in our every day world. I think we should do a lot more of it here in Atlanta.
Let's start with a magic slide, ok?!