top of page

Creating Playful Places

Updated: Sep 10, 2021

Creating a successful play environment goes beyond just the play structure itself. We try to create special places for people to enjoy, bring happiness and make memories. These spaces have the potential to serve as the catalyst for transforming neighborhoods into communities. To ensure we create quality public spaces that encourage social interaction and physical activity, landscape architects and planners take many aspects into consideration to create a great sense of place.

The term sense of place is often used in relation to those characteristics that make a place special or unique, as well as to those that foster a sense of authentic human attachment and belonging. Landscape Architecture/History: John Brinckerhoff Jackson, A Sense of Place, a Sense of Time “A sense of place is something that we ourselves create in the course of time. It is the result of habit or custom…. A sense of place is reinforced by what might be called a sense of recurring events.”

Learning about surrounding environments during childhood is strongly influenced by the direct experience of playing, as well as through the role of family, culture, and community.(1)The special bond which develops between children and their childhood environments has been called a ‘primal landscape’ by human geographers.(2) This childhood landscape forms part of people’s identity and constitutes a key point of comparison for considering subsequent places later in life. As people move around as adults, they tend to consider new places in relation to this baseline landscape experienced during childhood.(3)

Project for Public Spaces ( divides the process of placemaking into the following categories Sociability, Uses/Activities, Access/Linkages and Comfort/Image.

In an effort to follow the PPS – Placemaking approach we have compiled some of our playground designers tips and favorite place making products.


Complementary uses should be triangulated, or clustered together, rather than segregated from each other, and facilities should be designed for multiple purposes, where possible. For example, recreational uses like play areas, ball fields, skateboard parks, sport courts, bocce courts and swimming pools should not be “stand alone” facilities; rather they should be combined in such a way that people using them can take advantage of other amenities such as picnic areas, dog runs or jogging paths. This approach also accommodates families or other groups whose members may all come to the park for a different reason.

Uses and Activities

According to PPS design guide lines developed for the City of Surry many environments provide only a limited experience – people merely walk through them or stay for a short amount of time because there is not enough to do there. Great places have a variety of activities, located within close proximity to one another (e.g., a children’s play area within a shopping center), making it possible for people to easily spend hours there. (4) Every successful public space should have amenities that make it comfortable for people to use. Amenities should be clustered to support their use including seating and shade. Whether temporary or permanent, an amenities will help establish an inviting setting for social interaction. This temporary installation, Peak Experience, was created as part of the 2015 Market Street Prototyping Festival to bring playful placemaking to the streetscape of San Francisco. Image Courtesy of Atlas Lab.


Neighborhood gathering spaces and parks are usually considered mutually exclusive, but we tend to forget that plazas and streets are also places where celebrations are held and where friends and neighbors meet and run into each other. To ensure that neighborhoods provide a high quality of life, they should be organized around quality public spaces that encourage social interaction and physical activity and also provide a variety of play activities to engage the senses can be incorporated just about anywhere, including plaza spaces or streetscapes without the need for providing fall surfaces. This can be accomplished in numerous ways like incorporating musical play activities or water play.

Take some inspiration from 50 organizations across the United States received a grant to implement this type of innovative play space in their city through a KaBOOM! grant.


Reinforce the sense of place by contributing a theme or by adding standout items that make places memorable and get people talking. Shade and sculpture are great ways to accomplish this.

Sculptural mosaic climbers are made for imaginative play and come in all shapes and sizes. They can be custom designed and offer themes and character to fit your site. Made of solid PolyFiberCrete® with custom handcrafted mosaic tiles – it’s playable art that kids and adults can enjoy!

Shade is also a critical element in any gathering space in creating a comfortable and safe environment. Surface temperatures of play equipment in the summer sun have been known to reach in excess of 150 degrees. Providing integrated shade not only invites kids to play even when it is hot outside, but also prevents injury. However, shade doesn’t have to be purely functional; it can also be custom designed shade to compliment the image of your play environment.

Contact us at Miracle Playsystems, we work with manufacturers who provide a wide array of products and assist communities in transforming their ideas into reality. Working together combining your inspiration with our expertise on designing play and incorporating the vision of landscape architects, designers and artists we can move forward in creating a more connected, engaging and playful world.

(1) Derr, V. (2002). Children’s sense of place in northern New Mexico. Journal of Environmental Psychology 22(1–2):125–137

(2) Gayton (1996) Landscapes of the Interior: Re-explorations of Nature and the Human Spirit. Gabriola Island, Canada: New Society Publishers

(3) Measham, TG (2007) Primal Landscapes: insights for education from empirical research on ways of learning about environments, International Research in Geographical and Environmental Education 16 (4) pp. 339–350

(4) Placemaking and Public Space Guidelines, Prepared for the City of Surrey by Project for Public Spaces inc. Sept. 2009

161 views0 comments


bottom of page