Gathering Place Designers Hope To Shake Up American Playgrounds

Monday, June 6th 2016, 11:11 pm
By: News On 6

Tulsan’s are about to get a glimpse of the playground equipment featured at Tulsa’s Gathering Place.

A small new swing at the 41st Street Plaza on Riverside Drive will be unveiled later this week. It's a gift from Germany's Richter Company, one of the European firms building playground equipment for the new park.

It's intended to give you an opportunity to experience a piece of the park before its first stage opens in late 2017.

When the Gathering Place is finished, its playgrounds will provide an unparalleled experience for kids because German playgrounds are built to provide children with unique challenges and encouragement to grow.

6/2/2016 Related Story: 'Why Germany?' Tulsans Wonder Why Gathering Place Playground Was Built In Europe

On the other hand, American playgrounds are designed by lawyers, to keep injuries and litigation to a minimum, and to calm over-protective parents, which means our kids are missing out on the fun.

That is something the Gathering Place designers are working to change in Tulsa by reaching out to German’s Richter Company, which has installed playgrounds all across its home village of Frasdorf.

5/3/2016 Related Story: Not Following Rules Key For German Team Building Tulsa's Gathering Place Playground

In Germany, child’s play is a societal enterprise, and the Richter Company uses the playgrounds in their home village to test new ideas and study how children use their creations.

“Childhood is the most important time in life, and maybe the children are the most important group of humanity,” said Julian Richter Sr. with Richter Spielgerate.

4/28/2016 Related Story: German Engineers Take Pride In Massive Structures For Tulsa's Gathering Place

The day after watching scads of German kids swarm a playground for an afternoon of fun, I came back with Teri Hendy, a national play consultant on the Gathering Place project, to hear that more than half of the equipment would never be allowed in our country.

Scott: “Well, why can't we have this in the United States?”
Hendy: “It's a big platform and it would have to have these high guardrails on it, and those guardrails moving up and down like that actually would create a bigger hazard than just this. If you fall off this you land in the mulch. It's not that big of a distance to fall.”

Two of the swings used in Germany would be OK in the U.S., not four.

Scott: “Because you could swing into somebody? Two, you'd be far enough away it wouldn't hit someone.”
Hendy: “The idea that two kids might hit one another. And in Germany they say, ‘why would they do that? They're horsing around, they're having fun.’”
Scott: “And goodness gracious, I look over here and I see a piece of metal.”
Hendy: “That would not be allowed in the United States according to the Consumer Product Safety Commission.”

Hendy: “The idea would be that your feet are higher off the ground here, and as you come down around, your feet might strike the ground there.
Scott: “So they're looking out for your feet?
Hendy: “They're looking out for your feet.”
Scott: “But they're not looking out for your fun.”
Hendy: “No. No.”

And Hendy said that's the problem.

In our zeal to prevent any injuries on any playground, with reams of federal guidelines and litigation always lurking, American kids are missing out, consigned to boring, non-challenging play.

New York Times: What Makes Berlin a Playground Paradise

“I don't think it's going to be as rich, in terms of play value, I don't think it's as rich. I don't think children in Oklahoma have the opportunities for free play,” she said.

In Europe, most playgrounds have a water feature. Tulsa's will, too; that's a rarity.

“And, in fact, when I try to introduce mud or sand and sand and water into a play environment, I'm often met with disgust,” said Hendy.

Hendy's job is to make sure the Gathering Place playgrounds meet every American safety standard, while setting a new national standard for fun and challenge.

A Gathering Place for Tulsa

“You're going to see, in Tulsa, when this playground is finished, really kind of an example of what a rich play environment can be because there's an awful lot of sand and water play and opportunities for free play, for fantasy play,” she said.

Tulsa, in a sense, will be trendsetting.

“That's the way our parks need to be designed to really replicate the world's backyard,” Hendy said.

She thinks the number of long-bone fractures is fewer on European playgrounds because they use wood fiber, pea gravel and sand, rather than our hard rubbers and plastics.