I just stumbled upon an article I wrote for the Saporta Report earlier this year before Park Pride's annual Parks and Greenspace Conference. The conference had the theme of Parks and Play: A Conversation for All Ages and it was fantastic.
Saporta Report, 25 January 2016
By Cynthia Gentry, Founding Director of Play Atlanta
I grew up in an Atlanta where at age 10, just for fun, my friends and I rode our bicycles safely and easily up Peachtree Road to Lenox Square (although I am not entirely sure that my parents knew about this). It was a lush green city full of opportunities to play, and the time to do it.
Time spent outdoors doing everything and doing nothing was considered time well spent and the benefits of such open-ended play were understood. We knew where those great climbing trees were and who had the best treehouse. We walked across the pipe that stretched across the vast width of Nancy Creek to a distant land that was the next neighborhood. We knew who had dug up treasured Minié balls, relics from the Civil War. We ran free and wild.
If you consciously review the activities mentioned above you can see what it costs our children to keep them inside like we do these days. Through outdoor unstructured play, my friends and I learned socialization and negotiation skills; we grew strong and pushed beyond our fears to go higher and higher in the trees or up a hill. We learned to watch our step and measure risk. We learned visioning, math, engineering and cooperation without realizing it with the raising of each treehouse. The pipe across the creek? Balance. Courage. Goal-setting. We even learned about history and the concept of time while digging up treasures from long, long ago. We learned to ask questions.
Today, where are the places that our children can access the massive list of benefits resulting from free play? As Atlanta gets denser and denser with people moving back into the city, there are fewer rolling hills and trees to be enjoyed… unless, you take advantage of Atlanta’s parks and greenspace. Thank goodness for our parks.
Even with science on our side, we play advocates struggle to convince a society long chained in by the Puritan Ethic that play is an invaluable behavior for all ages. Creating green and lush city havens for free play benefits everyone. Properly designed and fully utilized, our public parks and greenspaces can afford countless play opportunities that engage all of our citizens, from toddlers to seniors …and this means both cooler playgrounds and realizing that “play” is not limited to happening in playgrounds alone.
To help us gain understanding of the important relationship between play and parks, Park Pride is hosting its 15th Annual Parks and Greenspace Conference* on Monday, March 21, 2016. The theme this year is Parks and Play: A Conversation for All Ages. In a city poised on the edge of greatness in so many ways, the timing for this theme is a perfect way to examine how parks and play together are vital not just for the well-being of an individual, regardless of age, but also for the well-being of our communities as a whole.
The conference features a number of exciting, nationally recognized speakers. World-renowned play expert and Professor of Landscape Architecture, Robin Moore from the Natural Learning Initiative at NC State, literally wrote the book(s) on green play space design. Alex Gilliam from Philadelphia’s Public Workshop will inspire you with his model of engaging youth and communities in designing play opportunities that shape their city. Additionally,Barbara Tulipane, President and Chief Executive Officer of the National Recreation and Park Association (NRPA) and James Siegel, President of KaBOOM! will speak on the importance of outdoor play and the role of our parks in cultivating enriching play experiences for all. As the Founding Director of Play Atlanta, I am also a presenter at the conference, and will highlight the challenges and opportunities Atlanta faces in incorporating the playful design that will make our city more livable.
I have great hope that Atlanta will continue to be described as a beautiful green city, but also as one of the greatest, most playful cities where children (of all ages) thrive. While I may not let my grandchildren ride their bikes on Peachtree when they are 10, I do plan to let them loose in our parks, let them climb trees, play in the creeks, build forts, and crawl in the mud. I with likely get my hands dirty as well. I hope you’ll join me!
Parks & Play: A Conversation for All Ages
March 21, 2016 | Atlanta Botanical Garden | 8 A.M. – 5 P.M.