Guest Blog: Inspiring creative play among kids

Venti_Blog

In 2016, we introduced Smart Play®: Venti™, a smartly designed playstructure that packs 20 exciting activities into its compact size. Today, we’re happy to have Tory Roff, concept designer at Landscape Structures, as our guest blogger discussing how he and the product development team created the newest addition to our Smart Play line of playstructures.

The idea for the Smart Play line of playstructures was more an ethos about playgrounds as a whole… about creating a cohesive play environment. The criteria for this playground solution was a small footprint and budget, but a desire to serve a large population. So, we started with a blank slate without any rules, and asked ourselves how to design an environment that invites a dynamic play experience.

Birchview01_blog

The design started with the Cargo Net and strategically set the height of it so there is room for play underneath, allowing it to work as a trampoline above and it also acts as a hub for the rest of the play space. We built out from there in respect to circuits and routes so there are different ways to engage the whole of the system. Graduated challenge is built into Smart Play: Venti so that kids with a higher skill level can find challenges and still have a way to invent from it.

We spent a lot of time in the model space—virtual and scale models—working out the dimensions of the structure to really understand how every piece could be doing more. In modular playgrounds, a fire pole is always a fire pole. But good design considers what programming is happening around the fire pole so that kids can create another route and link two events as a cohesive experience rather than a series of segmented happenings. And that’s what’s happening with Smart Play: Venti. The Cabin Climber is an interior club house and an exterior ladder. The pods on the Cargo Net are a way-finding option through the structure, but also a place to stop and hang out. The Belt Hammock is a space for lounging, but also an escape route—it’s not big, it’s not obvious, but it is there.

Birchview03_blog

I was able to talk with students at Birchview Elementary School while they played, and they talked about their friend, Michael, who uses a mobility device. They were excited that he can actually use this equipment, and how it’s his favorite on the playground. Because the design is less scripted, there’s less expectation of how a user actually engages it. Smart Play: Venti allows for more natural inclusion through the addition of many access points and a centralized hangout location, which was one of our primary goals during the design process.

There is enough variety of activities in the playstructure so that kids feel like they can fill in the blank however they want. As designers, we had ideas and hopes of how everything would play out. But you have to engage it from a place of humility and know that there isn’t such a thing as intended use. Kids are infinitely more creative than we are, so it’s important that we give them a platform to express that.

Guest Blog: Working to restore urban and wildland forests

Since 2008, we’ve partnered with American Forests to directly offset the total amount of CO2 generated for each playsystem and Skatewave® skatepark produced in our Delano, Minn., production facilities. Today, we’re happy to have Jami Westerhold, Senior Director of Forest Restoration, as our guest blogger, discussing the work that American Forests has done for the past 140 years.

SC-Longleaf-Pine_web

As the oldest national conservation nonprofit, this year American Forests is celebrating our 140th anniversary. Our mission is restore threatened forest ecosystems and inspire people to value and protect urban and wildland forests. As our forests are damaged by a myriad of threats—pests, disease, fire, development—American Forests works to restore these areas to health. Identifying high-impact projects American Forests selects a variety of projects in a range of locations and address different ecological challenges. Restored healthy wildland and urban forests provide numerous benefits ranging from providing wildlife habitat to cleaning air to reducing energy costs.

I manage one of American Forests’ keystone programs: Global ReLeaf. While the world watched the space shuttle Discovery place the Hubble Space Telescope in orbit 25 years ago, American Forests was launching a stellar program of its own.

Trees

Though we had dipped our toe in the water of forest reforestation before 1990, this was the first year we committed to supporting multiple large-scale, on-the-ground projects. Since its inaugural year, American Forests’ Global ReLeaf program has blossomed into what is now our flagship program, planting more than 48 million trees in all 50 states and 45 counties.

Perusing our projects you will see that though the projects differ each year, there are common themes among American Forests’ comprehensive work to protect and restore the most damaged ecosystems. American Forests works to ensure native species are used and all elements are considered. Though our lives are dependent on forests—more than half of drinking water in the U.S. originates in forests!—their importance is much broader, reducing the rate of erosion, flooding, climate change and much more.

longleaf-pine

Credit: USDA/Flickr

American Forests is thrilled to have partners like Landscape Structures supporting the success of these projects. Since 2008, Landscape Structures has offset carbon it generates through high-impact projects. Just last year, the company helped American Forests and the U.S. Forest Service re-establish longleaf pine, a priority in the southeastern United States, in an area affected by a high-intensity wildfire. Longleaf pines, which once covered more than 90 million acres of the North American landscape, now encompass less than three percent of their original range, or 3.4 million acres. These forests represented some of the world’s most unique biodiverse ecosystems and are a high priority because of the large number of threatened and endangered wildlife species that depend on these forest ecosystems.

Though we have restored hundreds of thousands of acres of forests, there is more work to be done. It is the partnerships with companies like Landscape Structures that lead to American Forests’ success in achieving our restoration goals.