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University of Southern California The School of Architecture University Park Los Angeles California 90089-0291

This thesis, written by Kay Sales under the direction of Mark Rios, Thesis Committee and approved by all of its members, has been presented to and accepted by the Dean of the School of Architecture, in partial fulfillment of the requirements of the degree of Master of Landscape Architecture.

Dean of the School of Architecture Jerry Davison Director of the Landscape Architecture Program Mark Rios Thesis Committee John Jennings Chris Aykanian Tricia Ward


a new playground?

A Thesis Presented to the Faculty of the School of Architecture University of Southern California In Partial Fulfillment of the Requirements for the Degree MASTER OF LANDSCAPE ARCHITECT copyright 2006

kay sales


This thesis is based on my study undertaken in the Landscape Architecture program, School of Architecture at the University of Southern California from Fall 2005 to Spring 2006. Many thanks to John Jennings, my Thesis Chair, for his expert guidance and thoughtful insight during the thesis process. Also, to Chris Aykanian, Tricia Ward and Mark Rios for their help and support throughout.


Arch 598 a/bL Landscape Architecture Design Directed Research

thesis topic

Instructor: Mark Rios Student: Kay Sales


thesis statement



Outdoor, unstructured play is integral to developing healthy, creative and independent children. Direct experience of the natural world is crucial to healthy development, learning and education. Finding a way to link together children and nature through play in high density, urban neighbourhoods, where most cities comprise of large areas that are severely park poor, is the modern dilemma. The need to create play areas that incorporate an experience of nature, stimulate children’s creativity, encourage independence and provide social interaction is crucial for our cities to become enriching places to live. The vacant lots, that children played in 15-20 years ago, have disappeared, the street has become the domain of the automobile and the need for an alternative is great. Physical play has become less of a priority in today’s society; modern sedentary lifestyles have increased the levels of obesity and ADD in children and adults. Getting children away from the TV and outside to play, while reassuring parents that their children are safe, is a challenge.


Re-designing the utilitarian aspects of the street to be more harmonious with natural cycles, would create an environment which would be more conducive to the way children naturally play, thereby encouraging social interaction, independence and creativity.

“If [cities] are not meant for children, they are not meant for citizens, either. If they are not meant for citizens - ourselves - they are not cities.”, Aldo Van Eyck. 7




personal interests


relevance today the importance of play


safety issues/managing risk


educational philosophies


history of the playground


case studies


emdrup adventure playground kidspace children’s museum


audubon center at debs park


washington environmental yard


central park adventure playground


child educational center


thesis site


urban context


systems of nature


site analysis mapping


point of view






thesis committee















personal interests

My children are a big part of my life. I am actively engaged in their development and hope that they will one day be healthy, happy individuals who can contribute to society, make friends and be independent. City living can be exciting and full of resources for the adult, but children tend to be forgotten. Very little outdoor space is left in the urban environment for children to play in. School yards are uninspiring fields of ashpalt and parks, on the whole, are generic and geared towards the very young. Most residential streets have too much vehicular traffic to be considered safe to play in and as our cities grow and spread, the last few pockets of nature for children to explore are fast disappearing. If the local neighbourhood offered a wider variety of play experiences then children would be more inclined to go outside. If parents were also considered in the design of play spaces; if there were areas for them to congregate, if they were reassured to know that their children were playing safely and enthusiastically, they would be more interested in taking their children outdoors.


“People being out and about on the streets maybe more conducive to neighborhood renewal through a vision of a ‘walkable’ community”. Ken Worpole, No Particular Place To Go.

relevance today Children’s lives are so scheduled these days that there seems to be little or no time for unstructured, spontaneous play. In most American households both parents work, thereby reducing the amount of time children have to explore and play in their neighbourhood. There is also a tendency for parents today to overprotect their children. P Bateson and P Martin wrote an article for The Guardian newspapaer in England in 1999 and commented “ The tendency of many parents to over-protect their off-spring also has worrying implications. Oncenormal activities such as roaming about with friends, or even simply walking unescorted to and from school, are becoming increasingly rare.... The activities of children are monitored and constrained to ensure that they come to no harm. They also take less exercise, becoming fat and unfit.” Nature has become a precious commodity in the urban environment and areas that do exist tend to be there as something to visit and admire but not necessarily get involved with. Most children brought up the city have no connection with nature, no hands-on experience with it or knowledge of it. Economically, empty parcels of land are more financially viable for developing than to be set aside for children to play on. “Children have a right to develop in an environment that stimulates their healthy development as mandated by the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child (see below). To fulfill this mandate, nature must be seen as an essential component of the experiential world of childhood, designed into every childhood habitat, providing daily emersion in nature, putting children in close touch with the biosphere.” Robin C. Moore and Nilda G. Cosco. IPA (International Association for Child’s Right to Play) is an international non-governmental organization, founded in Denmark in 1961. It endorses the United Nations' Declaration of the Rights of the Child (1959), especially Article 7, paragraph 3, which states: "The child shall have full opportunity for play and recreation which should be directed to the same purposes as education; society and the public authorities shall endeavor to promote the enjoyment of this right;" 13

IPA is deeply concerned by a number of alarming trends and their negative impact on children's development: - Society's indifference to the importance of play - Overemphasis on theoretical and academic studies in schools - Inadequate environmental planning, which results in a lack of basic amenities, inappropriatehousing forms, and poor traffic management Richard Louv, the author of the book “Last Child in the Woods: Saving Our Children From Nature-Deficit Disorder” is similarly concerned. “Copious studies show a reduced amount of leisure time experienced by American families, more time in front of the TV and the computer, and growing obesity among adults and children because of diet and sedentary lifestyles. “ Coupled with this worrying trend is the fact that natural play spaces are fast disappearing in our urban environment; a transformation that appears to have happened only over the last fifteen years or so. Heidi Brirz-Crecelius, a proponent of the Waldorf early childhood education approach recognizes that “Our environment is becoming increasingly sterile and more and more deprived of possibilities for play. Even our cities used to offer fine opportunities for play……….Today……..the eye is regaled by properly looked after house-fronts, well cared for parks and clean, boring playgrounds.” The benefits of emersing children in nature has long lasting repercussions. There has to be a development of a universal environmental ethic. Our children need to be encouraged to be the stewards of our planet. Without that connection and passion with and for nature, we will develop a generation of people who will not fight to stop the environmental crisis currently happening. There are many early educational philosophies around today; ranging from the Montessori approach of “emphasizing the individual child's initiative and independence”, to the Academic program stressing serious preparation for elementary school, using structure and “work”. The main priority for any early childhood educator is to stimulate the children to want to learn. Children’s learning occurs best when the whole self is involved and play is an active form of learning that unites the mind, body and spirit. However, the outdoor environment is not taken into consideration in many schools or childcare centers in America. School recess has been reduced and even deleted in many states, due to the advent of increased school accountability, student testing procedures and the belief that time would be better spent on academics. Recent studies in Scandinavia have shown that children attending an outdoors-in-all-weathers school reached a more advanced stage of development and acquired stronger powers of concentration than children attending an average pre-school. For many reasons, ranging from availability, accessibility, and financial resources, not every child has the same early educational choices. If local neighborhoods, ideally accessible to all, offered a more stimulating, learning environment; encouraging skills needed that haven’t been focused on in the indoor classroom, wouldn’t it help to level the “playing field” just a little?


the importance of play

The benefits of of outdoor play are identified in four specific developmental domains by the National Association of Early Childhood Specialists in State Departments of Education (NAESC/SDE). Social Development Close relationships with peers contribute to both social and cognitive development. Through active, free play and peer interaction, children can: develop a respect for rules, gain selfdiscipline, appreciate others cultures and beliefs Emotional Development An outlet for reducing anxiety, managing stress and gaining self-control. Children learn the art of expressing themselves to others, begin rehearsing behaviours and practicing skills. Children learn about their own abilities, perseverance, self-direction, responsibility and self-acceptance. Physical Development Release excess energy, which in turn improves children’s attentiveness and decreases restlessness. Essential for healthy growth and development. Through active play, young children learn about their bodies capabilities and how to control their bodies. Physical activity fuels the brain with a better supply of blood and provides brain cells with a healthier supply of natural substances, enhancing brain growth- leading to improved retention of facts, a greater understanding of concepts and subsequnetly higher acheivment. Cognitive Development Children learn through play. “Children can remember more more, focus better and regulate their own behaviour better in play than in any other context”. Providing opportunities for free, active play with peers facilitates the encoding and decoding of social signals. “What is acquired through play is not specific information but a general (mind) set towards solving problems that includes both abstraction and combinatorial flexibility” where children “string bits of behaviour together to form novel solutions to problems requiring the restructuring of thought or action”. Sylvia, 1977, Best Play Booklet. 15

“Risk-taking is an essential feature of play provision, and of all environments in which children legitimately spend time at play. ...Play provision should aim to manage the balance between the need to offer risk and the need to keep children safe from harm....Exposure to some risk is actually benefit: it satisifies a basic human need and gives children the chance to learn about the real consequences of risk-taking”. Managing Risk in Play Provision: A Position Statement.

safety issues/managing risk In 1981, the U.S. Consumer Product safety Commission published its first set of playground safety guidelines. At the request of the playground equipment manufacturers, the American Society for Testing and Materials drew up their own voluntary standard for public playground safety. These have become the standard regulations used to judge a playground’s safety, particularly in legal cases. This has partly been the reason for the uninspiring equipment in public parks. Our litigious society has led to many lawsuits over playground safety. Municipalities favour catalog equipment with no moving parts, thereby limiting creativity and reducing maintenance budgets. The fear of kidnapping has led to playgrounds being developed with unobstructed views. Custom designed playgrounds are rare these days, therefore each local playground tends to resemble others within a specific council district. Calculated risk is fundamental to the development of confidence and abilities in childhood. Children seek out opportunities for risk-taking and it should be the responsiblity of play provision to respond with exciting and stimulating environments that balance risks appropriately. According to the Children’s Play Council in England, fatalies on playgrounds are very rare, compared with over 100 child pedestrain fatalities a year and over 500 fatalies from accidents overall. Play provision appears therefore to be a comparatively low risk activity for children.

“Let us hope that the growing concern over safety will be matched by a concern for giving children outdoor places filled with developmentally appropriate opportunities, in recognition of what has been taken from them by urbanization, cars and trucks and social disorder. Children have to have the opportunity to take some chances, to stretch some of their limits. Risk taking is concomitant with growth. Their environment should not be hazardous, but neither should they be without challenge.” Mary S. Rivkin, The Great Outdoors: Restoring Children’s Right to Play Outside. 16

educational philosophies

(1896-1980) Jean Piaget Jean Piaget is considered to be one of the most influential researchers in the area of developmental pyschology. He was very interested in the way children think and saw play as less a behaviour or activity than a state of mind which allowed children to become engrossed in what they were doing. He believed that the fundamental basis of learning was discovery. (1859-1952) John Dewey He is thought to be one of the most influential thinkers on education in the twentieth century, His focus for children was on real life tasks and challenges, children learn more when they engage with and enlarge their experiences. Education depended on action and these learning situations would have to occur in a social environment. Constructivism Constructivism has been labeled as the philosophy of learning that proposes learners need to build their own understanding of new ideas. Much of what Jean Piaget and John Dewey developed became the foundation for constructivist learning. The essential core of constructivism is that learners actively construct their own knowledge and meaning from their experiences. Nine principles of learning are derived from constructivism: - Learning is an active process in which the learner uses sensory input and constructs meaning out of it, - People learn to learn as they learn. Learning consists both of constructing meaning and con structing systems of meaning. - Physical actions and hands on experience may be necessary for learning, especially for chil dren, but is not sufficient; we need to provide activities which engage the mind as well as the hand. Dewey called this reflective activity. 17

- Learning involves language: the language that we use influences our learning. - Learning is a social activity: our learning is intimately associated with our connection with other human beings, our teacher, our peers, our family, as well as casual acquaintances. - Learning is contextual: we learn in relationship to what else we know, what we believe, our prejudices and our fears. - One needs knowledge to learn: it is not possible to absorb new knowledge without having some structure developed from previous knowledge to build on. The more we know, the more we learn. - Learning is not instantaneous: it takes time to learn. - The key component to learning is motivation. Montessori This educational philosophy originated in Italy by Maria Montessori, a Physician and educator. Her philosophy emphasizes the individual child’s initiative and independence, allowing him or her to progress through an orderly series of structured learning activities at his or her own pace. Special materials which emphasizer the use of all senses in learning are employed. Friedrich Froebel (1782-1852) The method of education is play, creative and imaginative, learning and developing skills. Children learn through their own experiences. Self-discipline brings all into harmony. Part of the The Froebel curriculum includes nature study, handwork, block play, art and drawing, music and movement and story telling. The typical Froebel kindergarten has three focuses: - Toys for sedentary creative play (these Froebel called gifts and occupations) - Games and dances for healthy activity - Observing and nurturing plants in a garden for stimulating awareness of the natural world Kid’s Klub, Child Development Centre and Preschool, Pasadena My children attend this daycare and it has elements from many of the philosophies already quoted. The centre has the following mission statement: “Kids Klub has a "Back-to-Basics" approach when working with children, allowing them to reach their full potential for proper growth and development. We provide scheduled learning times, outdoor play, and free play within a consistent routine. Our caregivers cue into your child's individual needs. With Kids Klub's "Back-to Basics" approach, the teachers help instill values, rolemodel appropriate behavior, and teach valuable lessons the child needs for a solid foundation in life. It is vital that the children learn about their "Self" since they are naturally developing their self-image, self-control, self-respect and independence. Through play and the freedom to explore within appropriate limits, the child learns not only about himself, but also learns to respect others, and appreciate his environment.” 18

history of the playground





The earliest playground spaces were founded by private charities. The first one was a large sand pit in the yard of a Boston Mission, called a “sand garden”.



The Olmsted Bros. designed and built Chicago’s South Park, with distinctive areas for different ages and sexes. This was soon to be emulated in many cities across America.



Under the leadership of Robert Moses, the Parks Commissioner for New York at the time, Central Park began it’s program of building structured playgrounds; the Hecksher Playground was the first. Due to lawn abuse, 18 marginal playgrounds were added to Central Park. 100’s of acres of formerly idle land around New York was made useful and turned into park space, playgrounds developed in conjunction with them.

Charlesbank, Boston, developed an open air gymnasium for boys and men.

The first adventure playground was developed in Emdrup, Denmark by C Th. Soprensen. Children would play with scrap lumber, tools, earth, water and even fire under supervision. This spurned off many adventure playgrounds throughout Scandinavia, Switzerland, Germany and especially England.

By 1894 all Boston schools had a “sand garden”.

Playgrounds began to be built for specific age groups. Many states began to sponsor recreation legislation, with New Jersey enacting the first comprehensive piece of legislation creating a playground commission.





Playgrounds remained unchanged until several landscape architects in New York applied new ideas of child psychologists to the reinvention of playgrounds. Using concrete, granite and timber landscape architects such as M. Paul Friedberg and Richard Dattner created sculpted forms and linked them with bridges and stepping columns, to encourage decision making and group play.

Fulton Mall, Fresno, California, the first pedestrian shopping mall to be built in America.



The Commission published its first set of playground safety guidelines. By this time, the number of lawsuits increased, with the court awarding judgements of up to $11 million in fecent playground injury cases. This fear of litigation has led to many in the field becoming more cautious.

The Federal Consumer Product Safety Commission discovered that several hundred thousand children were being injured at playgrounds across America.

During the 70’s many progressive schools began to rethink the outdoor space, focusing on enriching play and creating learning environments serving both the school and neighborhood. Washington Elementary School in Berkeley replaced their asphalt school yard with mini-ecosystems. After school and at weekends it became a play space for all ages. This model continues to be replicated in various forms, both here and abroad. It seems that although it may be difficult to build a challenging playground that meets safety guidleines, some designers are investing their time to create more dynamic and stimulating spaces for children. 21


case studies


emdrup adventure playground The first adventure playground was started in Denmark during the German occupation of World War II by C. Th. Sorensen. He studied children playing in the at-the-time “normal” asphalt and cement playgrounds and discovered that the children actually preferred playing in the dirt and lumber of the post-war rubble. Children had the most fun designing and building their own equipment and manipulating their environment. So, he decided to create an environment that met the child’s urge to explore, test and experiment. The children who used the site were from all walks of life, a cross section of the population. The formula of the adventure playground offered conditions for play in which a city child could not find in any other way. The look of the adventure playground was probably the most criticized thing about it, tending to resemble a building site most of the time. Many people did not want to have one close to where they lived. The lack of information passed on from test site to test site meant that new adventure playgrounds had to start from scratch each time, without profiting from any experience gained elsewhere. A lack of continuous funds affected the resources for the children. The playground closed down after 4 years. Adequate supervision was imperative to its success and this was a major part in its closure. This playground has many elements that are interesting and benefical to children; the ability to create their own environment, the connection to the outdoors and social interaction. Safety issues and funding are major considerations in todays society. The challenge is to find elements within the adventure playground philosophy that can be translated into today’s standards of what will acceptable for all involved. 24

kidspace children’s museum Kidspace Children’s Museum is an interactive learning environment that is fun for children, families, educators and caregivers. This new facility was opened in 2004 and the outdoor space was designed by Nancy Power. The design was based on the concept of “outdoor discovery”. The natural shell of the space was designed so that outdoor exhibitry could be inserted, creating a sequence of flexible spaces for exploration, play and learning. Along the path was a series of outdoor “rooms”, each with a distinctive character, influenced by the plant community within it. Linking the spaces was “The Arroyo”, a way to reintroduce water into the space, by abstracting the notion of channelisation and creating an interpretive Arroyo. Having visited it with my children I found it to be beautifully planted and interestingly laid out. Nancy Power, the landscape architect, felt that her true vision for the space was not fully implemented and that many of the play instillations were not placed sympathetically within the outdoor rooms, something she wished she had had more control over. The museum and its grounds blend well with the surrounding landscape and help create a unique and exciting space for children. The program of the museum lends itself well to the concept of discovery, play and learning.


audubon center at debs park

There are over 50,000 students within a 2 mile radius of the Audubon Center who attend year round schools and hard working parents who are simply too busy for trips to the nearby mountains or beach. As these children are left without environmental education opportunities the Center offers education programs focused on 3 major areas; self-interpreted programs, family programs and school programs. The Audubon Center at Debs Park was designed by the Los Angeles firm of Campbell and Campbell. Their statement on the design is as follows: “Serving the children and families of it’s culturally diverse inner city neighborhood, this project will be a prototype for the AUdubon Society’s nationwide urban Nature’s Centers program. Developed in collaboration with a team of environmental scientists and museum and interpretive specialists, our master plan and design for the Center, Interpretive Gardens and Trails, in the 200+ acre Debs Park in the Arroyo Seco district of Los Angeles provides a choreographed sequence of settings for arrival, introduction, discovery and immersion into the natural world.” I have visited the Center often with my own children and they find much there to engage themselves in play. Being able to play outdoors within an urban setting without a play structure in sight is refreshing for both parents and children. Connecting them with nature was, for me, the most rewarding element of the park. The fact that this is a prototype is also very encouraging. 26



washington environmental yard

The environmental yard was designed by Robin Moore and Herb Wang and built on an ordinary municipal schoolyard, previously one and a half acre site of asphalt. The focus was to support child development and to act as a social focus for the surrounding neighbourhood. The ecological principle of diversity was used as a major concept. The designers aim was to demostrate “that children’s needs are much more diverse and can properly be met only by a much broader range of play settings-especially ones containing natural features.� Schoolteachers, parents, children and local residents all partnered together with several local organizations, including UC Berkeley campus, to create this yard. Climbing structures and community gathering places were included. After school and during weekends it became a play space for all ages . Children are motivated to learn when they make their own discoveries. There was a push to develop a rich play and learning environment serving both the school and the community. The emphasis was on a living and learning laboratory. Earth, water, vegetation, animals and playground equipment stimulate creative interaction. The children have been regularly asked to complete surveys of their outdoor space and consequently there have been modifications.The Environmental Yard is still thriving and continues to inform future generations on ecology and nature. 27

central park adventure playground The Adventure Playground resides on the site of one of twenty parks that were built around the perimeter of Central Park during the Depression. There was a move to demolish it and build a parking lot; this was met with such opposition from the local mothers who frequented the park, that the project was dropped. After a change in leadership at the Parks Department, accidents at the existing park and pressure from the community, Richard Dattner was hired to design an adventure playground. It was built primarily from a donation by the Estee Lauder Foundation, with one stipulation, that the community would raise funds to pay for a full-time trained supervisor. The design consists of a group of small, varied and related elements surrounding a large central space. The south half is designed for active play, running, jumping, climbing and the north side is designed for digging, building and playing with water. The park is still being used today by children from all demongraphics and has been very successful. This is not an adventure playground in the European sense of the word, yet imbues many of the elements from them and at the same time appears “toned down�. In our litigious society it has managed to continued to thrive upholding its original philosophy and yet be attractive, safe and successful. 28

child educational center The CEC is a private, non-profit organization to serve the child care needs of employees of JPL and Caltech. It’s mission is “to support the development of happy, caring and productive human beings, to ensure a high quality, affordable program and to advocate for a high quality of life for children beyond the CEC.” The CEC has cultivated the concept and practice of the Outdoor Classroom Project (funded by First 5 LA) understanding the value of the outdoor environment and perceive it as an extension of the indoor classroom. They also understand that it is through play that children ages 0 to 5 learn and grow. There are 3 fundamental principles to the Outdoor Classroom: - Children benefit from spending substantial time outdoors. - Even with a minimally developed yard, there are very few children’s activities that cannot be done outside. - Children’s development is optimized when they spend a significant amount of time participating in child-initiated activities that are teacher-supported. 29


thesis site


“Children being seen and heard in public places is one of the hallmarks of a vital city.� Plymouth City Council Play Policy, UK.

urban context

Los Angeles appears to have a lot of green space, 9.1 acres of parkland per 1,000 residents, but much of it is tied up in the Santa Monica Mountains and Griffith Park and the highly populated city centre is almost entirely devoid of large public parks. The site chosen falls in an area where 33%-69% of the total population per acre are children and the need for parks is greatest in areas where most children live. Nearly 67% of children in Los Angeles do not live within walking distance of a park, ballfield or playground; in comparison to 3% in Boston and 9% in New York. White neighbourhoods (where whites make up 75% or more of the residents) boast 31.8 acres of park space for every 1,000 people, compared with 1.7 acres in African-American neighbourhoods and 0.6 acres in Latino neighbourhoods. 32

n los a

griffith park

geles river

hollywood reservoir

runyon canyon

rowena reservoir

los feliz hollywood boulevard barnsdall park


park la brea

beverly boulevard

hancock park

vermont avenue

wilshire country club


normandie avenue

paramount studios

western avenue

silver lake

hollywood memorial park

pan pacific park

la b




wilshire boulevard


silver lake reservoir

korea town

country club park venice boulevard

echo park

westlake macarthur park

staples center

rosedale cemetery

100 yr

500 yr

open space


flood plains 33

“Children have a right to develop in an environment that stimulates their healthy development as mandated by the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child. To fulfill this mandate, nature must be seen as an essential component of the experiential world of childhood, designed into every childhood habitat, providing daily emersion in nature, putting children in close touch with the biosphere.� Robin C. Moore and Nilda G. Cosco, Developing an Earth-bound Culture through Design of Childhood Habitats.

systems of nature California has a wide and diverse collection of native plants that are adapted to the climate and require little care. They also attract a greater diversity of wildlife. The benefit of immersing children has long lasting repercussions. Children are one third of the population and all of our future and without a connection and passion with and for nature we will develop a generation of people who will not want to be stewards of this planet. Nature is integral to creating enriching play environments and some of the ways that can be achieved is by using nature to stimulate all 5 senses, experience change in the natural environment, manipulate natural materials and play with natural elements.


adenostoma fasciculatum

losus scoparious

heteromeles opuritia littoralis quercus ilicifolia arbutifolia

rhus integrifolia malosma laurina

california towhee

quercus agrifolia

juglans californica

california jay

oat titmouse

nuttall’s woodpecker

populus fremontii

downy woodpecker


orangecrowned warbler

salvia apiana


pacific-slope flycatcher



salvia mellifera


black headed grosbeak

umbellularia californica

american dipper

red shouldered hawk



band tailed pigeon

acer macrophyllum

salix alba

poison oak

spotted towhee

clark’s grebe

western warbler

california thrasher

arctostaphylos sonoma

california quail

wood duck

cactus wren

blue-grey gnatcatcher

quercus chrysolepis

acorn woodpecker

platanus racemosa

canyon wren

common yellowthroat

adenostoma malosma laurina fasciculatum

bewick’s wren

canada geese

coastal sage scrub

dichelostemna capitatum

quercus kelloggii


alnus rhombifolia

ash-throated flycatcher

quercus ilicifolia

riparian woodlands

lesquerella ludoviciana


salvia mellifera

oak and walnut woodlands

encelia californica

audubon’s warbler

reservoirs and lakes

artemisia californica

american wigeon


site analysis

The site is placed in the 13th District, which is one of the five poorest city councils in Los Angeles. These five districts have just 17% of the total neighbourhood park space, according to the Verde Coalition. The Alexandria Avenue Elementary School falls within the site boundaries. 1,400 children attend the school, with 99% living within the area bound by Beverly, Melrose, Normandie and Vermont. This also one of the many schools in the area that doesn’t have a park within walking distance.




x x

beverly blvd

vermont av

normandie av

melrose av

x x

site schools



1/4 mile walking circle from school 1/4 mile walking circle from park 37

private/public boundaries

This is a predominantly Latino neighbourhood and most of the homes are fenced off from the street. Culturally, parks and public space are an intimate and important part of domestic life in Mexico and other Latin American countries. They are vital components of social and ethnic identity. Ordinarily parks and playgrounds would the place for the people of this neighbourhood to appropriate, but as there are none nearby, the front yard and the street become the extension of the house.

commercial corridor

The main commercial corridor in the area is along Beverly and this becomes an important destination point for many local residents, as most people don’t own cars and therefore use public transport. The main transportation hubs are located on the corner of Beverly and Normandie and Beverly and Vermont.


There is a predominance of multi family houses within the neighbourhood. This is a fairly old and well established area within the city and comprises of many old houses.


The most used street trees are Washingtonias, Magnolias and Ficus Nitida. All of these are evergreen, low maintenance and contribute very little to both wildlife and awareness of nature. 38

“In legal terms the public realm can be used to ‘pass and repass’, allowing us to gain access to land and buildings and for the passage of goods and people. But the public realm gives benefits beyond ‘just’ access. It helps to structure our lives.” Penelope Tollitt, ‘Life in the Public Realm’, Planning Services, Bath and North East Somerset Council, UK.


After extensive mapping of the site, the following maps diagram the pertinent information found. In summary; the site is a densely populated, low income neighbourhood of renters. Most people speak Spanish at home and their children attend the Elementary School on Alexandria Avenue. The topography is quite extreme, with a flood plain passing through the low point of the site. The 2/101 freeway passes through the north of the site and Beverly Boulevard, a main transportation artery, borders the south. Public transport is heavily used and there is a bus stop on the corner of Beverly and Normandie and a Metro train station on the corner of Beverly and Vermont. 39

total population

hispanic or latino

under 5 years

28,590 - 33,048 73.1% - 80.5%

9.9% - 11.1%

45,731 - 74,946

families below poverty level

commercial lots

single family homes

flood plain


28.6% - 31.6%

35.6% - 40.0%

storm drains


foreign born

speak language other than english at home

renter-occupied housing units

89.5% - 91.5%

85.6% - 91.7%

83.9% - 87.7%

94.9% - 97.8%

64.2% - 68.2%

multiple family homes

apartment buildings

street lights

traffic use


public realm




water water water water










point of view

The following images and photographs show how an adult and child navigate the street within the neighbourhood. The adult tends to use the street to get from A to B, using signage, house numbers, curb colours etc. Their path through the urban landscape tends to be very linear. Children see interesting things in the most mundane; reflections in puddles, shadows created by the tree canopy, chain link fences, a length of poles. Their journey through the space is quite different; erratic and spontaneous, a discovery of interesting things en route. 43


adult point of view 45


child point of view 47




The following site map shows how my thesis design focuses on transforming a whole neighbourhood, by redesigning the utilitarian aspects of the street to be more harmonious with natural cycles and therefore more conducive to the way children naturally play. The elements on the following pages can be used in various combinations to link together children and nature through play. The orange areas show various places where potential transformations could occur, i.e. the culde-sac next to the freeway where a Caltrans yard is empty and not used, a wide street with diagonal parking, an alleyway and road next to the school with a drop off zone, sidewalks along an inlcined street, an existing tree-lined street where a grocery van stops every day. The systems of nature are applied to different areas of the neighbourhood, based on topography, the flood plains, potential transformations and native plant adaptability. Ken Worpole expresses the need for these areas that are integral to all neighbourhoods, “one of the ways young people inhabit public space is as a series of stopping points in a continual process of ‘moving on’ or ‘wandering’ in and through the neighbourhood.” (No particular place to go)

potential transformations coastal sage scrub oak and walnut woodlands riparian woodlands chaparral

systems of nature 50


reservoirs and lakes


heliotrope drive


seasonal storm water Using the natural topography and flow of water during the spring, water features occur along the sidewalk. During the spring and early summer water is retained and through the rest of the year the dips can be played in, creating year round interest. existing trees transformed Although the neighbourhood doesn’t have a huge amount of street trees, the ones that are there can be transformed into play and rest spaces, by surrounding them with chain link structures and planting native shrubs inside.

new curbs As the residents walk through the neighbourhood and get closer to a play element, curbs jut out, an index of a change of environment. The dips the trees are planted in collect leaves during fall, enhancing the change in seasons.

bench snakes Native shrubs planted inside chainlink structures that double as resting places, encourage an abstracted experience with nature.

pole forest Using utilitarian aspects of the street, such as these dividing poles, in a playful way, reintroduces them to children, combining play and safety.

wire walls Another version of the running theme of chainlink and native planting create this wall/tunnel of plants. Children brush past the plants, releasing scents, seeds and an experience with nature.

humps and dips Exaggerating the topography of the road or sidewalk creates interest on a different scale to the rest of the neighbourhood. The dips collect water, leaves, dirt or sand, depending on the season and the humps encourage physical play. 52

current sidewalk path new curb



existing curb



existing curb





15ft new curb

current sidewalk path







40 ft








shadows and trees

traffic flow

seasonal storm water


Heliotrope Drive is an example of how the various design elements can be combined to transform just one part of the nieghbourhood. 54

heliotrope drive

quercus agrifolia acer macrophyllum sandpit dip hump earth pole forest wire walls bench snake

1“ : 66 ft

road bump 55


The model for the final design solution is made up of various interlocking elements; humps, dips, trees, buildings and sidewalks. These are combined in different ways to create a sense of the seasons. Using elements such as water, light, shadow and greenery helps to show the change of the seasons and how these changes can be exaggerated to introduce nature to the residents of the neighbourhood. As the seasonal mapping diagram on page 42 shows, each season brings with it something new and exciting for children to discover and a way to begin to connect with nature. Spring emphasises the retention of water and long shadows. Summer brings with it heat, colour and growth. Fall shows change in colour and change in the environment and winter has stark contrasts, bare trees, shadows getting longer and a lack of colour. 56








9 mph

9 mph

9 zone 60

9 mph

9 9

nine zone



thesis committee Thesis Chair John Jennings


Thesis Committee Chris Aykanian Tricia Ward

bibliography Allen, Lady of Hurtwood. Planning for play. Cambridge, Massachusetts; The MIT Press, 1968. Bengtsson, Arvid. Environmental Planning for Play. New York; Praeger Publishers, 1970. 63

Bengtsson, Arvid. Adventure Playgrounds. New York: Praeger Publishers, 1972. Bergen, Doris and Fromberg, Doris Pronin. Play from Birth to Twelve and Beyond. New York: Garland Publishing, Inc., 1998. Bouroullec, Ronan. Ronan and Erwan Bouroullec. London ; New York : Phaidon, 2003. Britz-Crecelius, Heidi. Children at Play: Using Waldorf Principles to Foster Childhood Development. Rochester; Vermont: Park Street Press, 1972. Curtis, Deb and Carter, Margie. Designs for Living: Transforming Early Childhood Environments. St. Paul; M.N.: Redleaf Press, 2003. Dattner, Richard. Design for play. Cambridge; Massachusetts: The MIT Press, 1969. Franceschini, Amy and On, Josh. Harvest : [Futurefarmers, 1995-2000] Hong Kong : Systems Design Ltd., c2002. Hendricks, Barbara E. Designing for Play. Aldershot; England: Ashgate Publishing Ltd., 2001. Lefaivre, Liane and de Roode, Ingeborg. Aldo van Eyck : the playgrounds and the city. Amsterdam : Stedelijk Museum ; Rotterdam : NAi Publishers, c2002. Louv, Richard. Last Child in the Woods: Saving our Children from Nature-Deficit Disorder. Chapel Hill; N. Carolina: Algonquin Books of Chapel Hill, 2005. Miller, Thomas and Schneider, Romana. Montessori: Teaching Materials 1913-1935, Furniture and Architecture. Munchen: Prestel Verlag, 2002. Montero, Marta Iris. Roberto Burle Marx: The Lyrical Landscape. Berkeley: University California Press, 2001. Newton, Norman. Design on the Land: The Development of Landscape Architecture. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1978. Rivkin, Mary S. The Great Outdoors: Restoring Children’s Right to Play Outside. Washington D.C.: NAEYC, 1995. Rogers, Elizabeth Barlow. Landscape Design: A Cultural and Architectural History. New York: Harry N. Abrams, 2001. Rojals del Alamo, Marta. Design for Fun: Playgrounds. Barcelona; Spain: Links Int. Rouard, Marguerite and Simon, Jacques. Children’s Play Spaces: From sandbox to adventure playground. Woodstock; New York: The Overlook Press, 1977. Ruby, Andreas and Durandin, Benoît. Spoiled climate : R&Sie, architects. Boston: Birkhäuser-Publishers for Architecture, c2004. 64

Spellman, Catherine. Re-envisioning Landscape/Architecture. Barcelona: Actar, 2003. Stine, Sharon. Landscapes for Learning: Creating Outdoor Environments for Children and Youth. New York: John Wiley & Sons, Inc., 1997. Tuan, Yi-Fu. Space and Place: The Perspective of Experience. Minneapolis; M.N.: University of Minnesota Press, 1977. Tufte, Edward R. Visual Explanations: Images and Quantities, Evidence and Narrative. Cheshire, Conn. : Graphics Press, c1997. Tufte, Edward R. Envisioning information. Cheshire, Conn. : Graphics Press, c1990. U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission. Handbook for Public Playground Safety. Washington D.C.: Latest version. Whitford, Frank. Bauhaus. London, Thames and Hudson, 1984. Wilson, Edward O. The Future of Life. New York, Vintage Books, 2003.

articles APA. How Cities Use Parks.....Help Children Learn. 65

ASLA. Design for Learning Experiences. CABE Space. What are we scared of? The value of risk in designing public space. CABE Space. Involving young people in the design and care of open spaces. May 2004. CEC. The Outdoor Classroom. La Canada. Children’s Play Council. Best Play. National Playing Field Association, UK, March 2000. Children’s Play Council. Managing Risk in PLay Provision; A Position Statement. Play Safety Forum, UK. Doolittle, Peter E. Constructivism and Online Education. Virginia Tech. Heaton, Martin. Broken Bones: Towards a Strategy for the unofficial Playground. Hough, MIchael. Principles for Regional Design. La Farge, Phyllis. Why Playgrounds. Moore, Robin C. The Power of Nature. North Carolina University. Moore, Robin C., Cosco, Nilda G. Developing an Earth-bound Culture through Design of Childhood Habitats. North Carolina University. NAEYC. Developmentally Appropriate Practice in Early Childhood Programs Serving Children from Birth through Age 8.. Pincetl, Stephanie. Urban Open Spaces: Gateways to Urban Sustainability, A White Paper. Institute of the Environment, UCLA. Pincetl, Stephanie, Longcore, Travis, Wilson, John and Wolch, Jennifer. Towards a Sustainable Los Angeles: A “Nature’s Services” Approach . USC Center for Sustainable Cities, March 2003. Sherer, Paul M. The Benefits of Parks: Why America Needs More City Parks and Open Space. The Trust for Public Land, 2003. Urban Land Trust. Walking to the Park. 2002. Worpole, Ken. No particular place to go? : Children, Young People and Public Space. Young, Terence and Longcore, Travis. Creating Community Greenspace: A Handbook for Developing Sustainable Open Spaces in Central Cities. Califronia League of Conservation Voters - Education Fund 2000.

websites 66 l


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