While I was in Melbourne recently with my family we visited the St Kilda Adventure Playground. Besides Jasmine and Alexa having a wonderful time playing in an amazing park, it was an interesting example of community engagement.
Adventure playgrounds began in post-war Denmark with children creating play equipment out of “junk.” “It provided much needed discovery and challenge for children to control and transform their environment. In particular, children constructed their own play spaces and were able to play and manipulate the basic elements of fire, earth, wind, and water” (http://www.adventureplay.org.uk/history2.htm). The St Kilda Adventure Playground opened in 1981 and children were given the tools and materials to make their own play equipment. (They are no longer allowed to construct the equipment but are still involved in a variety of ways.)
Over time is has developed into a unique play experience, quite unlike a normal playground. There is a little kitchen where you can help yourself to tea and coffee, there are staff (possibly voluntary?) to keep an eye on things, and there seems to be quite a sense of community. While I was there for a couple of hours, it had a real buzz and a great feel. There were 50 to 100 kids running around, a birthday party or two, and parents chatting together. Some of the play equipment was clearly made on-site with various bits of recycled materials and there was none of the soft fall material we now associate with most playgrounds.
Community engagement happens at multiple levels. It is a real hive of activity in the middle of high density housing and clearly engages local children. There appears to have been a great deal of community support in building and maintaining the playground. A sense of community is built through the kitchen visitors are encourage to use.
According to the playground website “The playgrounds [there’s another one in South Melbourne] are managed by the City of Port Phillip and supported through Federal FAHCSIA Funding. The funding is to target children and families who would usually be unable to access cultural, recreational activities due to social or financial constraints. For many families the playgrounds are more than just a ‘backyard’ they are a support network, a place to learn new skills, somewhere to ‘escape’ and a link to the wider community and a safe place to have fun.”
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