Childrens playgrounds in the Australian capital territory

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  • Landscape Planning, 2 (1975, published 1976) 295-302n Elsevier Scientific Publishing Company, Amsterdam -Printed in The Netherlands

    Short Communication

    CHILDRENS PLAYGROUNDS IN THE AUSTRALIAN CAPITALTERRITORY

    ALAN WILSON and JANICE STANFORD

    Landscape Branch, National Capital Development Commision. Canberra, A.C.T 2601(Australia)(Received December 11th, 1975)

    ABSTRACT

    Wilson, A . and Stanford, J ., 1976 . Childrens playgrounds in the Australian Capital Terri-tory . Landscape Plann., 2 : 295-302 .

    Before 1970 when planning was based on neighbourhood units of about 4,000 people,three playgrounds each with two to five pieces of standard equipment were distributedevenly throughout the open space system within the neighbourhood .

    In 1970 a larger planning unit was adopted in which open space formed a linear activityspine linked to residential areas by pedestrian and cycle pathways. This led to a study toassess playground provision and usage in the old areas .

    As a result, a new pattern of playground provision has been adopted . Demand for shortterm casual play will be met by single multi-use pieces of equipment sited on pedestrianways but some of these would be provided by the community . A larger, more com-prehensive playground would be sited adjacent to public facilities such as shops, schools,community use areas and developed with public and community resources .

    In 1958 the National Capital Development Commission was formed withresponsibility for planning, developing and constructing the city of Canberr .as Australia's National Capital . The Commission undertakes the general landuse planning of the city, determines planning policies and programmes,prepares detailed project plans and carries out the physical construction ofCanberra .

    NEIGHBOURHOOD PLAYGROUNDS

    From 1958 the Commission adopted the neighbourhood unit as the basefor the planning of its new towns . The size of the neighbourhood unit wasdetermined by the desirable size (i .e . enrolment) for a primary school, thepopulation composition and a maximum walking distance of 750 m . Theaverage size of such units was 4,000 persons . A neighbourhood centre provid-ed a focal point for the area with shops, a service station and sites forcommunity buildings . A hierarchy of roads was established to eliminate

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    through traffic as far as possible . A series of public open spaces within theneighbourhood were linked by pedestrian ways .

    The playgrounds which the Commission provided in these residentialunits were normally located within the open space system on sites of notless than 1 ha. An average of three playgrounds per neighbourhood were con-structed with an even geographic distribution within the limitations set bytopography and population distribution . An attempt was made to limit thedistance a child would have to travel to a play area to a maximum of 800 m .

    Each play area had between two and five pieces of standard play equip-ment such as pipe rail swings, climbing frame or slide as well as adult seating,rubbish containers and a drinking fountain . Equipment was set into a bed ofpine bark chips or consolidated granite gravel with appropriate drainage andsurrounding landscaping .

    Additional playgrounds with one or more play pieces have been put intoresidential areas at later stages as residents have substantiated a demand forthem.

    The need for playgrounds in areas of special housing or higher populationdensity is considered as the development of these areas occurs . However, theprovision of playgrounds is related to that in surrounding areas whilst recog-nising the reduced domestic play space associated with such special develop-ments .

    SPECIAL PLAYGROUNDS

    Other playgrounds have been provided outside standard neighbourhoodunits by the Commission and other bodies and their availability for use bythe general public varies accordingly .

    Two large regional playgrounds incorporated in a wider parkland settingserve as an attraction for both the residents of Canberra and the many visitorsto Australia's National Capital . One park is associated with the man-madeLake Burley Griffin around which Canberra has developed and the other isfurther away from the residential areas within the catchment area forCanberra's water supply . Both provide a wide range of formal and informalplay pieces for children of different ages .

    Restricted use can be made of playgrounds at primary and infants schoolsafter school hours, but use of pre-school or kindergarten playgrounds is nor-mally restricted to those children attending during school hours . These schoolsare normally sited adjacent to the playing fields and shopping centres ofneighbourhood units and their playgrounds are similar in size and structureto the neighbourhood playgrounds .

    In addition, playgrounds specially designed for particular groups, such asthose with physical or mental handicaps are built in association with theschools and institutions attended by them .

    Public playgrounds have also been developed with major community in-volvement. In 1968 a group of residents from a Canberra neighbourhood

  • Fig.1. A regional playground with mainly conventional equipment .

    formed a Development Association which subsequently negotiated with theCommission for a piece of land for recreational purposes . Both the Assoc-iation and the Commission contributed finance and materials towards theadventure-type playground which the Association constructed on the site .

    A CHANGE IN PLANNING CONCEPTS

    In 1970 the Commission, after re-assessment of the neighbourhood unitas a planning base, opted for a new planning concept which allowed greaterphysical and social flexibility . The population scale for this new Territorialunit varies between eight and thirty thousand and the area is delineated bymeaningful physical and psychological boundaries such as topography, majorland use changes and arterial roads . Schools, shopping centres, and the larger

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    Fig.2. A regional playground with non-conventional equipment .

    open spaces are arranged in a flexible linear pattern and form the focalactivity spine for the area . The spine is linked to the residential areas bypedestrian and cycle paths as well as a hierarchical road system .

    EVALUATION OF PLAYGROUND PROVISION

    This change in planning concept, and general observations made over theyears that most playgrounds provided in residential areas did not receive ahigh degree of usage, led the Commission to seek an evaluation of its exis-ting policy on playground provision and to the formulation of a new approach .

    A firm of landscape consultants was engaged to study the location, struc-ture and usage of existing playgrounds in a number of neighbourhood areas .The survey confirmed the low usage of the neighbourhood playgrounds .

    Fourteen playgrounds were selected from both the established and newersuburbs and were surveyed over a limited but representative period for atotal of 7 h on weekdays and a weekend in April/May 1974 . During thisperiod there were only 290 individual uses of the 14 playgrounds and theaverage duration of stay was 11 min .

    Of the total number of children counted during the survey, 26% were in

  • Fig.3. A neighbourhood playground developed with community involvement .

    the 2-5 year age group, 66% were aged 6-11 and 8% were aged 12 years orover. The neighbourhood parks are not supervised and this is consistent withthe relatively low usage by those in the 2-5 year age group .

    40% of the children visited the playgrounds about three times per week,26% once per week and 34% hardly ever .

    The distance travelled from home did not seem to be a significant factorin playground usage . The average distance travelled to playgrounds was 360 m(about 18 house blocks) but many travelled up to 1,000 m (about 50 houseblocks) .

    The findings of the survey suggested that these playgrounds were used as"passing by" activities rather than major play experiences . This is in contrastto the regional playgrounds which are associated with both adult andchildren's recreation resources. Parents and adults are present and childrenplay for much longer periods of time . A much larger proportion of the chil-dren is in the under 5's age group . .

    A NEW POLICY

    These findings prompted the Commission to develop a new pattern of

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    Fig.

    4. Application of play policy in the Territorial Unit Concept

    .

    PLAN 1

    TERRITORIAL UNIT CONCEPT

  • Fig.5. Multi Use Play Item .

    provision which was adopted for implementation in April 1975 . There areno proposals for altering the amount or distribution of open space but it isproposed that the structure and number of playgrounds be altered within thepresent open space framework .

    The demand for short term casual play will be met by providing singlemulti-use pieces of play equipment in open spaces and pedestrian ways inresidential areas. These multi-use pieces include opportunity for a numberof motor and imaginative experiences and could occupy a child's time forthe period similar to that spent in existing playgrounds . (The piece illustrated,for example, incorporates swinging, climbing and balancing functions andprovides a base for creative play .) Other play items could be sited near pathsand include such things as hopscotch pitches, a felled tree trunk or atricycle path and could utilise existing features such as rock outcrops or treestumps. The number of these "perimeter" playgrounds provided in a residen-tial area equivalent in population to a neighbourhood of 4,000 could be in-creased to six but two or three of these may be developed partly or whollywith community participation .

    A more comprehensive playground will now be provided and sited in theshopping/community/primary school area . This playground would includea wider range of equipment and would offer play opportunities for a widerrange of age groups. The effectiveness of this playground could be greatly

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    extended if the community were involved in its design, funding, implemen-tation and supervision . Another desirable measure would be the integrationof the central community playground with the school playground ensuringthe best use of available resources .

    An alternative to the central structured playground would be a true (super-vised) adventure playground. This could be associated with school use or berun by the community with a government subsidy .

    The cost of providing playgrounds on the basis outlined above is compar-able with previous playground costs . Moreover, the contribution which couldbe made by the community cannot be discounted .

    The new provision is being slotted into current and future planning prop-osals and a public relations exercise will be initiated to disseminate inform-ation on the concept and to encourage involvement of the community in thesmall play areas as well as the comprehensive community playgrounds. Therelative success of the scheme will be monitored over a period of time to en-sure its practical compatibility with current planning philosophies .

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