Where Design Comes into Play for DesignPhilly 2016

By Sharon Leshner on Sep 28, 2016

Where Design Comes Into Play Exhibit
Ongoing, Opens Thursday, October 6, 2016
Philadelphia City Hall, 2nd and 4th Floor, Visitors’ Entrance, NE corner
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What’s your favorite memory of play? Whether you recall building tree forts, watching ants, pretending to be an explorer, or spinning around until you got dizzy, it’s likely that your best play experience happened close to home.

Children need time, space, and freedom to play—and that’s become increasingly hard to find. 59% of parents report that there is no place to play within walking distance of their homes. In poorer neighborhoods, that figure increases to 69%. Between 1981 and 1997 alone, time spent playing by children age six to eight declined by 25 percent. Fear of litigation produces playgrounds that follow a dull formula of fencing and prefab play equipment. In many cities, lack of funding has led to barren and battered parks, playgrounds, and schoolyards.

Play isn’t just about fun, even though it feels that way! Play is an essential part of every child’s life and a vital component of learning. Play fires our imagination, independence, and creativity. Play teaches problem solving. It shows us how to collaborate together and get along. It gets us moving without even trying.

That’s why the Community Design Collaborative and the Delaware Valley Association for the Education of Young Children (DVAEYC) have spent over a year looking at play. We’ve hosted countless conversations, a design charrette, and an international design competition—all with a focus on designing innovative play spaces for Philadelphia. We’ve generated hundreds of new ideas for enriching play at the city’s libraries, recreation centers, schools, sidewalks, and backyards. Now we’re putting them on display at City Hall.

Not surprisingly, the play spaces you’ll see on display reflect the ideas of architects, landscape architects, and engineers. But they were also designed by a head librarian, a high school student, a gym teacher, a childcare provider, a preschool teacher, a parent, a play worker, an entire second grade class, an environmentalist, a child psychologist, an architectural historian, the founder of a neighborhood running club, an artist, and others with a stake in play. We hope you’ll add your own ideas.

It’s a great time to re-imagine play space for Philly.  The City of Philadelphia is embarking on Rebuild Philadelphia, an ambitious campaign to invest in parks, libraries, recreation centers, and playgrounds with the goal of expanding educational opportunities for children, promoting healthy lifestyles for all, and creating jobs across Philadelphia. Educators are seeing a clear connection between play, child development, and academic achievement. Environmentalists are realizing that children who experience nature early will be their strongest advocates. And parents are trading academic drills and digital toys for small adventures, improvised games, and hands-on projects.

Come see our exhibition at City Hall, talk to fellow Philly citizens, and consider these questions as you walk through: Where is play happening in your neighborhood today? How can you make your neighborhood more playful? What new ideas can you try out now?  What bigger changes can you advocate for in the longer run?

Together, we can design a more playful Philadelphia!