Adventure Playground Pops Up!

On Sunday July 10, Tipperary Park in New Westminster will be ringing with the laughter of children playing in a playground. But hold on… there isn’t a playground in Tipperary Park! That’s where the kids come in — they’ll build their own playground from spare parts!

With the help of a Neighbourhood Small Grant from the Vancouver Foundation, Alice Cavanagh and Kevin McConnell (and a host of other volunteers behind the scenes especially Brad Cavanagh and Mona Boucher) are bringing a one-day pop-up adventure playground to New Westminster. Adventure playgrounds give children free reign to create things to play with: tents, forts, race tracks, anything they can imagine. They build these things themselves using “spare parts” that have been donated by members of the community. Lumber, plywood, PVC piping, old tarps, and tires have all been donated for creative use by the children.

The concept of an adventure playground is best illustrated by The Land, a permanent adventure playground in Wales. Its sign sums it up: “The Land. A Space Full of Possibilities.” In The Land, children are allowed to build and do anything they like with as little adult supervision as possible. By giving this freedom to build — and fail — children build self-confidence and courage. In The Land, children are almost never stopped from doing what they’re doing, and often build precarious structures out of shipping pallets. They start fires. They roll tires into a creek. They make friends, sing songs, dance, and play. And this “risky behaviour” has led to an occasional scraped knee in two years of operation.

If you’re a parent, you’re probably thinking this is all a little crazy. But most parents grew up playing in neighbourhoods where they were given the opportunities to test their limits. Our playgrounds had “dangerous” ziplines, we roamed in empty lots and threw rocks at wasps’ nests. We learned about risky behaviour and, most importantly, we learned self-confidence and courage. We were occasionally hurt, but the benefits far outweighed the risks.


Children these days don’t have those opportunities. Playground equipment seen to be as “dangerous” is being removed. Jungle gyms are a thing of the past. Ziplines are few and far between. The sense of danger, testing limits, and natural consequences are happening to our children less and less and, in some sense, this does not help them prepare for adulthood.

It’s our goal to help rekindle a little bit of the sense of danger in kids and help their imagination and self-confidence. We’ll have tires, wood, cardboard boxes, burlap sacks, tarps, and other assorted spare parts for children to build with. We won’t have any fires, but we will have tools for the kids to use. There will be adult supervision but it will be largely hands-off; we’ll help them if they need help sawing some wood or screwing things together, but the point of an adventure playground is to let the kids do it themselves, and let them fail if they do fail, and let them succeed if they do succeed!

We’re still looking for donations of spare parts, so if you have PVC pipe, rope, plywood, nails, screws, and various handheld tools to donate, please get in touch! And if you want to be a volunteer, we’d be more than happy to have you!

We’re excited to see what the children are going to build, take apart, and rebuild at our Spare Parts Adventure Playground! Come join us at Tipperary Park in New Westminster on July 10!

Further Reading:

You can reach the organizers of this project via email: Alice Cavanagh or Kevin McConnell, who were the authors of this post. 

Revamped Grimston Park playground & wading pool open for play

New playground at Grimston Park
New playground at Grimston Park

The new playground at Grimston Park is now open, and it is AWESOME. The park’s designers have done an incredible job creating a welcoming and imaginative space to play for kids of all ages. While the temporary fence is still partially up, and there’s still some work to do (laying sod, painting the wading pool), the playground and pool are now open for play.

As the organizer of a new summer festival in the park (Summerfest, on Saturday, July 17), I am relieved to say that the new playground is far better than the old!

The wading pool feels more integrated with the overall playground. Instead of two separate play areas, elements of water play continue through the park. When the wading pool drains at 4pm, the water goes sluicing through an artificial “river” channel. The channel is dammed in two places with gates for the kids to open and close.

The tires from the original playground have been integrated into the new design

The new playground is safer, but it does not sacrifice fun. For kids who want to push the limits of their bodies, there are two climbing walls, and lots of ways to climb up high and jump back down. It’s simply much harder for smaller kids to get really hurt during ordinary play. As a mom of a three-year-old and eight-month-old, I am very thankful for this.

I always felt that the old park wasn’t very good for small kids, because the adventure playground was so high off the ground. The new adventure playground is a series of stepped platforms – far safer than the old one megaladder. Inside the playground are hidden a number of sweet little features to trigger imaginative play: quiet nooks, windows, a steering wheel, little seats, and more. The new structure also reveals a better view than I remember from the old park. The equipment is placed in such a way to draw your eye in a kind of view corridor, whereas the old playground kind of blocked the ground-level view.

A play area geared to younger kids includes a giant sandbox, bouncers, swings and diggers.
A play area geared to younger kids includes a giant sandbox, bouncers, swings and diggers.

Having two to care for, I’m also pleased that there are several good spots to play closely with the younger one while being able to keep an eye on the eldest. For instance, the toddler area is also a giant sandbox where kids of any age can play. Located next to the wading pool, and bordered with a “boardwalk” it feels very beach-y. There are two diggers, a couple of bouncers and a set of baby swings in the sand, and lots of room for free play to dig, roll, scoop and dump.

I love living in New Westminster’s West End. It’s such a neighbourly place. That said, this part of New West lacks amenities. In a city of only six square miles, it doesn’t take long to access other neighbourhoods’ parks, pools, community centres and so on, but it’s important to provide spaces where neighbours naturally meet and grow closer. In the West End Grimston Park is that place. It’s nice to have it back.

Demolition underway to make room for new Grimston Park playground

Grimston Park playground demolition. Photo: Briana Tomkinson
Grimston Park playground demolition. Photo: Briana Tomkinson

Demolition is underway at Grimston Park, as the work begins to replace the aging adventure playground with safer, more modern equipment. After a series of public consultations, the final design seems to be pretty much settled.

Here’s what will be included in the $230,000 upgrade:

  • A new tower
  • Slide utilizing the slope
  • New swings, including a platform swing
  • Spinning net
  • Climbing wall
  • Water feature stream that operates using a hand water pump supplied by surplus water from the wading pool.
  • Refurbish & incorporate existing monkey bars, slider track and teeter totter
  • All salvageable lumber and gravel from the existing playground to be reused

The existing wading pool, sports fields, lacrosse box and washrooms will remain untouched.

New Grimston Park playground plan
New Grimston Park playground plan

While the demolition work goes on, the playground at Grimston Park may be closed for up to two weeks, according to the information on NWPR’s website. There will be a gap of a number of weeks between the demolition and the installation of the new playground.

Over the winter, West End kids will have to make do with less. Last time I walked by the park, it looked like the metal monkey bars, swings, bouncers and two slides would remain, but the tearing-down was still underway. The spiral slide, fortress/walkway and log bridge were all gone.

It sounds like there will be a more extended playground closure after the new equipment is delivered. Expect about eight weeks of limited to no use of the playground while it all gets installed.

The new playground is expected to open in Spring 2010. After seeing the final designs on NWPR’s website, I am feeling more excited about the park to come. It looks like it tries to balance a more traditional ‘adventure play’ style with exploratory and imaginative landscaping. For example, the refurbished monkeybars appear to be placed so they cross a new water feature, so the kids could be climbing over or swinging above a little stream (or dry gully if no one is pumping water). The tires are also going to be reused to add a bit of playful architecture to the retaining wall, though they won’t be quite the same as we’ve been used to.

New Grimston playground design (Image: NWPR)
New Grimston playground design (Image: NWPR)

Two playground options for Grimston: Adventure or ‘Random’ play

The Grimston Park playground consultation is chugging along. For those who are curious, two proposed design directions are now up on the web, and the Parks dept. is looking for feedback on which one most appeals to the community, as well as specific feedback on types of equipment we want to see.

It seems a few things have changed since the first consultation: now one of the options includes salvaged pieces of the old playground, possibly including the tower (roof removed to discourage late-night partiers and homeless sleepers) and the iconic tires (relocated from their current position, and terraced on the side of the hill).

The playground designer and Parks have come up with two different directions: an adventure playground that does its best to continue the style of play we’ve become used to at Grimston, or a more exploratory “random play” playground, which is intended to evoke more imaginative play. It’s still not at a stage where we can see exactly what will and will not be included, but it’s clear there are two distinctly different directions they could take the new playground design.

Here’s what they’re thinking of for the ‘adventure playground’ option:

Here is the ‘random informal play’ option:

And here is the summary of the feedback received to date:

When we spoke with playground designer Richard Findlay and Parks’ Andrew Banks, they said that the feedback to date had been split between people preferring adventure play and others responding to the idea of more free-form, imaginative play. There seemed to be a slight preference for the adventure play option, but feedback was still coming in. If you’d like to share your thoughts, print off the form at the NWPR website and fax back.

Controversial vision for new Grimston Park playground

This time next year, Grimston Park could look substantially different.

The summer wading pool and winter toboggan hill will remain untouched, as will the lacrosse box and tennis courts. But the towering adventure playground with the plunging slides and the rattling drawbridge will be gone. So too the iconic tires cupping the border of the playground at the edge of the steep slope to the lacrosse box. Replacing these will be … well, we don’t know exactly what yet.

Grimston Park adventure playground today

Today was the day of the first public consultation about the park. After the brouhaha over the proposal to build a school in the park, the city’s Parks & Rec folks have wisely decided to engage in some reasonably well-publicized community outreach before messing with the West End’s biggest park. Present were Andrew Banks, the city’s parks maintenance manager, and Richard Findlay, the landscape architect hired to re-imagine Grimston’s playground.

In the photo below (click to enlarge), you can see an aerial map of the playground that shows which section is under consideration. The whole playground area is coming out (though Andrew told us the city will try to recycle materials if possible), but the rest of the park will remain largely untouched. One option that is being considered is to take over a portion of the current playground footprint for a toddler-oriented space, and claiming some of the hill below (between the playground and the lacrosse box) for a more physically challenging ‘big kid’ play area. The traditional sledding area between the ‘Welcome to New Westminster’ garden bed and Nanaimo St. will be preserved.

Grimston Park consultation diagram, showing playground footprint and relation to other park features.
Grimston Park consultation diagram, showing playground footprint and relation to other park features.

As fun as Grimston’ s current play equipment may be, it is both far too expensive to replicate (approximately two to three times the $250,000 budget) and fails to meet current playground safety standards due to the fall risk from those tall towers. So, Andrew and Richard are hoping the West End will get behind some out-of-the-box ideas for a park. Here’s the idea board they showed at the playground consultation:

Grimston Park playground ideas
Grimston Park playground ideas

Inspired by Richmond’s Garden City Park, New Westminster’s planners are exploring the idea of integrating non-traditional play structures that integrate existing landscape features, from the Stewardson-facing slope to the beloved wading pool.

Playscapes, a blog about playground design, describes some of the unique features of Garden City Park:

This is my new favorite playground…it has all the things I like to see.
A creek bed, water play, jumping stones, an outdoor theatre, natural wood and rocks to climb on, plenty of sand…and colored poles stuck in the ground for kids to play tag through are a personal favorite design feature.

And, here’s a video that illustrates the concept behind parks like Garden City:

Garden City – shaw segment – May 2008 from space2place on Vimeo.

With the caveat that at a cost of approximately $1 million, repeating Richmond’s celebrated park is out of scope, Richard and Andrew are hoping that a similar approach could bring a fresh style of play to New Westminster parks. Some of the ideas they’re kicking around include integrating an artificial creek winding down the hill that would use water drained from the wading pool in summer and possibly collected from rainfall or pumped by hand in spring and fall. Or a tightrope with handholds (think Y-shaped) to practice balance. Or climbable, slide-able sculptural pieces that could serve as both public art and play structure.

In our household, we are split on whether these ideas are the way to go. There are some good examples of free-form play equipment and sculptural parks, but there’s definitely a risk that the final structure could be too stark and simple for kids to enjoy. I am relieved to hear the new design is going to be safer and include at least some toddler-friendly equipment (the current park is geared for older kids, but our two-year-old is easily tall enough to climb up the adventure playground – and does whether or not we are there to spot him. Yet, I don’t want the park to put such a focus on “safety” that it’s no longer a fun place to play.

It seems some of our neighbours have the same concern. As I was just finishing this post, I received an email from Maryann Mortensen, who successfully led the campaign against building a school in Grimston Park. She and Trevor Frith have sent the following letter around to West End residents and City Hall (emphasis mine):

Hello all,

City Hall staffer, Andrew Banks and the playground designer Richard (last name fails me) met with the public today at Grimston Park from 3:00 p.m. to 7:00 p.m. to discuss the demolition of the playground and construction of a new playground for September 2009.  The time line is tight and our input should be swift if we want our wishes and concerns to be taken into consideration.

After talking with Andrew Banks, of City Hall and Richard (designer) tonight, we have some thoughts.

On the whole we believe the City is trying to give us the best bang for our dollar with the available funds for the replacement of the playground ($230,000).  I also believe that the City is genuine in its expressed desire that we are on board with whatever is constructed in place of our beloved wooden structure and tires.

We also understand that playground equipment is ridiculously expensive and that Canadian Standards Association requirements seriously limit the creativity of playground equipment.  It should be obvious to most that Grimston’s playground requires extensive work.

The concern we have is that the current playground at Grimston Park is already a downgrade from its last version.  The playground used to have a second tier at the top of the wooden structure with twin slides traveling down the large slope, a zip line and a cool digger with a dumping truck.  In recent months, according to Mr. Banks, we lost our fireman’s pole due to vandalism (someone sawed it off).

To replace the existing playground as is, according to Richard, would cost in the order of $750,000.  The suggested September 2009 model, with the best intentions of Andrew and Richard would not come close to the uniqueness, usability and value of what we currently have, due to budget constraints.  One has to question why our playground keeps getting downgraded. We believe that Andrew and Richard brought some decent ideas forward but the costs will prevent us from attaining a playground on a similar scale to what we have come to enjoy.

Some ideas we are floating are a request to City Hall for a phased approach with additional funds made available at a specified later date.  Each year the City has a budget of $700,000 to manage all its playgrounds.  Another possibility is petitioning City Hall now for more money or making requests for donations from private industry.

We would appreciate your thoughts on this and any suggestions you might have.

Warm Regards,
MaryAnn Mortensen & Trevor Frith

What do you think? What kind of a playground do you want to see in Grimston? Would you support asking for donations from a corporate sponsor if it meant Grimston had adequate funds to replace the play equipment without downgrading?

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