In today’s Slate, Tom Vanderbilt does good work in attacking the blight of playground equipment on America’s lawns. You know the landscape: Brightly colored swingsets and slides, no kids on them, sitting on a pitch of grass. They’re eyesores, they never get used, and they become a big environmental liability when it comes time to dispose of them.
So good on Vanderbilt there.
Bad on Vanderbilt here:
In her book American Playgrounds, Susan Solomon notes how the fear of injuries and their litigious consequences forced the closing, or banal “post-and-platform” retrofitting, of many playgrounds. Gone are the kinds of things that defined my own childhood: terrifying metal “monkey bars” pitched over a pit of hard gravel or the towering, twisting, all-metal “tornado slide,” as we called it, which was at once the most exhilarating and the most dangerous thing in my young life.
Here we have an exhilarating mixture of ignorance and nostalgia forming a perfect mound of bullshit.
Let’s take this thing point by point. I’ll admit I haven’t read Solomon’s book. But I can tell you this: I have a couple of very young kids and wherever I am, I’m always in the market for a playground. I haven’t had trouble finding them, either. So if there’s a big trend toward closing playgrounds, perhaps there were too many to begin with.
As for “retrofitting” the playgrounds, let’s hope so. When I was a kid, I often played on equipment anchored into asphalt. I fell on that shit many times. And no, that wasn’t exhilarating or cool or somehow character-forming. It wasn’t an experience that I’ll relate to coming generations in the same breath as walking through the snow barefoot just to get to school.
Those surfaces hurt. They’re a big reason why every year about 200,000 kids from preschools and elementary schools check into emergency rooms in this country after playground falls and the like.
The injuries and emergency visits, thank goodness, are on the decline. Why? Because playgrounds are getting safer. Rubberized surfaces are getting installed across the land, the better to cushion the impact of a fall. Insane equipment that mangles our little kids is getting thrown out. And if lawsuits are forcing these trends, then good on the lawsuits, too!
Vanderbilt should stick to aesthetics and the connection between home and its exterior. Leave out the mindless and tiresome references to the good old days.