Yesterday ASTM put on hold its proposal to tighten up playground surfacing standards, according to reports from committee members. ASTM’s original proposal has prompted widespread criticism: most recently from campaigning journalist Lenore ‘Free Range Kids’ Skenazy and leading American playground design commentator Paige ‘Playscapes’ Johnson. So yesterday’s decision – to suspend publication and refer the issue back to the relevant committee – is good news.
However, it is not clear what happens now. The next meeting of the surfacing committee is in May. But some members have told me that the chairman, George Sushinsky, is considering re-balloting members to push it through before then – perhaps before the end of March.
The American standards body ASTM International is planning a major change to playground safety standards.
[Update 5 March 2015: this change was put on hold on 4 March – but what happens next is unclear. See this post for more details.]
This post (including a joint open letter to ASTM from Robin Sutcliffe – chairman of the UK Play Safety Forum – and me) is a direct plea to put this proposal on hold pending a wider review.
The proposal – to tighten up the impact absorbency thresholds for playground surfacing – may sound purely technical. In fact, it is far more profound, as my regular collaborator Bernard Spiegal has argued. What is more, it could have far-reaching consequences, potentially leading to hundreds of millions of dollars of additional expenditure by schools, municipalities and others, the removal of equipment, and widespread playground closures. Its effects could be felt far beyond the USA, given the global push to normalize product safety standards.
Despite its implications, the proposal has so far had almost no debate beyond ASTM. This post, and the open letter below, aim to persuade ASTM to think again, and to open up this important topic to anyone who wants to see a more thoughtful approach to playground safety.
In my last post, I used the example of a wobbly bridge to highlight why it is hard to manage risk in play spaces. I promised to say more about the role of equipment standards in managing risk, and why they need to be rethought. This post delivers on that promise.
“How can we make our playground safe?” It seems a simple enough question. Yet the answer is anything but (and even the question is not as simple as it looks). In fact, managing risk in a playground is much more complex than in a factory or a workplace. The reason for this is down to a fundamental difference in the nature of the task. One way to grasp this difference is to think about a wobbly bridge.
I really appreciate the thoughtful comments to my last post about playground design. It prompted me to summarise my own views in the form of seven design principles (plus an extra one for luck). What do you think of them? Feel free to continue the conversation!
At last September’s Open for Play seminar, London playground designer Jerry Cooper of Theories Landscapes wondered whether there was a danger of losing sight of the child who – he argues – should be at the centre of playground design thinking. “Are we,” he asked, “turning ‘play’, a free-flowing and natural activity, into an adult controlled, designed and spatially confined event in places and ways that are adult-devised, justified and rationalised?” It’s a good question (which Jerry reminded me about in an email exchange last week).
Do you want to enjoy all the presentations from last month’s Open for Play seminar – on designing for play in playgrounds, streets and public spaces – from the comfort of your own office (or living room, studio, or bedroom)? Well, here is your chance. The full programme of formal presentations is now available to view online in glorious video and audio.
Posted in Outdoor play, Play spaces, playground, Public space, Urbanism
Tagged child-friendly cities, design, EC1, Islington, London, Olympic park, Olympics, open for play, play space, playground, urban design, video