Designing for Play

By Svetlana Stanislavskaya, Head Teacher

As we know, play is serious work for a child—a time to learn, discover, and create within an environment that is open to manipulation. The half-acre yards at Bing are carefully planned to be just such an environment, and children enjoy the space and freedom. Most playgrounds, in contrast, seem to force
children into a strict set of repeated motions. What is the Bing child to do on a weekend or after moving on? Who is concerned with design of public spaces where children can play?
Steve Raney, a Bing parent and an urban-design student at UC Berkeley, suggested that we look for answers to Martin Flores, senior landscape architect, and Peter Geraghty, architect and urban designer, from the San Jose Redevelop-ment Agency. Between them for the past ten to fifteen years, Flores and Geraghty have been involved
in every major project for children in downtown San Jose, including the interactive water fountain at Ceasar Chavez Park, St. James Park, the Tech Museum, the Children’s Discovery Museum, Arena Green, and Horace Mann School.
On a visit to Bing, Flores and Geraghty described and showed slides of their projects. The new McEnery Park, for example, features colorful spring toys, a model boat, and climbing structures. But most children (and their parents!) will be playing in the river—not the Guadalupe River itself, but a re-creation of it that forms the central spine of the park. It starts in the mountains with mist and boulders, flows through sandy foothills, and meanders on a broad plain before disappearing into irrigated fields.
Playful dragonfly sculptures hover above the river, suggesting the need for all rivers to be free of pollution. Long
arching benches follow the flow of the water. The patterns of diagonal paths invite children to count and read and measure. On the designers’ slides, the park looked like a Bing school yard,
but with a city in the background and misty sprays of water to run through
on a hot day.

As we know, play is serious work for a child—a time to learn, discover, and create within an environment that is open to manipulation. The half-acre yards at Bing are carefully planned to be just such an environment, and children enjoy the space and freedom. Most playgrounds, in contrast, seem to force children into a strict set of repeated motions. What is the Bing child to do on a weekend or after moving on? Who is concerned with design of public spaces where children can play?

Steve Raney, a Bing parent and an urban-design student at UC Berkeley, suggested that we look for answers to Martin Flores, senior landscape architect, and Peter Geraghty, architect and urban designer, from the San Jose Redevelop-ment Agency. Between them for the past ten to fifteen years, Flores and Geraghty have been involved in every major project for children in downtown San Jose, including the interactive water fountain at Ceasar Chavez Park, St. James Park, the Tech Museum, the Children’s Discovery Museum, Arena Green, and Horace Mann School.

On a visit to Bing, Flores and Geraghty described and showed slides of their projects. The new McEnery Park, for example, features colorful spring toys, a model boat, and climbing structures. But most children (and their parents!) will be playing in the river—not the Guadalupe River itself, but a re-creation of it that forms the central spine of the park. It starts in the mountains with mist and boulders, flows through sandy foothills, and meanders on a broad plain before disappearing into irrigated fields.

Playful dragonfly sculptures hover above the river, suggesting the need for all rivers to be free of pollution. Long arching benches follow the flow of the water. The patterns of diagonal paths invite children to count and read and measure. On the designers’ slides, the park looked like a Bing school yard, but with a city in the background and misty sprays of water to run through on a hot day.