Connecting Pathways And Pocket Parks

Remember the excitement of discovering something new around the bend of the creek or the curve in the path through the woods?

Pocket parks give kids a chance to spread their wings and explore.

Remember sidewalks that provided a way to move through a small town?

Remember when kids spent time playing outdoors?

Richard Louv’s book “Last Child in the Woods” brings to light the need for children to spend time in nature and enjoy its myriad benefits. Researcher Martin S. Carlson notes that in the past 40 years in the United States, the number of children and adolescents walking or biking to and from school has declined by about half to fewer than 15 percent.

Over time, the independent mobility of children has rapidly disappeared for various reasons; therefore, communities need to think more deliberately about how to make pathways attractive and safe to kids while making parents feel secure.

The sense of adventure that most children feel during childhood is the same type of excitement, exercise, community connection, and learning that “Pathways to Play: Best Practice Guidelines” is helping communities create in an urban setting.

The idea is to design pocket playgrounds that will reintroduce that sense of adventure, wonder, and discovery, while offering participants pathway connections to move by themselves with limited interaction with motor-vehicle traffic.

Key Benefits

Researchers at Natural Learning Initiative, College of Design at North Carolina State University, with the support of PlayCore Inc. representatives and the American Trails Advisory Board, created the guidelines.

“This began from a conversation while strategic planning a primary goal of how to get kids and families using the trails in meaningful ways,” says Lisa Moore, Vice President of Corporate Strategic Services for PlayCore.

“The American Trails Association noticed trails are not being used by children’s families,” says Robin Moore, Dipl. Arch., MCP, director of the Natural Learning Initiative, professor of landscape architecture at North Carolina State University, and author of the guidelines.

“That is of great concern because of the investment in the systems and especially the health issues children are facing with not exercising and not being in contact with nature. Nature features an environment that is interactive, healthy, and constantly changing. There is always something new to find.”

Pathways serve multiple purposes:

• Promoting spontaneous play

• Increasing outdoor physical activity

• Increasing independent mobility

• Reducing traffic danger

• Increasing contact with nature

• Connecting meaningful childhood destinations

• Increasing use by adults and children.

The benefits of pathways include:

• Extending play value

• Enabling health promotion

• Expanding inclusion

• Engaging with nature

• Reinforcing environmental literacy

• Creating community connectivity through walking and biking

• Increasing community social capital.

Monoliths Versus Pockets

Rather than a monolithic mega-playground that parents have to survey with the fierce intensity of a military commander, smaller theme-based playgrounds, peppered along trails, greenways, sidewalks, or around the next bend, are becoming the latest trend in offering constituents healthy, active lifestyle choices.

The play pockets blend together with natural, living, and manufactured components, and vary in size and scope.

The idea is to play on a human’s inherent wanderlust to get people moving from one pocket playground to the next. The kids play on the equipment at one playground, and then move via foot or bike to the next pocket playground.

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