Maybe it is because I’m sitting at our Park(ing) Day parklet here in Providence, RI that I’m pondering play and play design. Maybe it is partially that I’m reading, ‘Play’ by Dr. Stuart Brown and delving deep into the intellectual side of play. Maybe it is just inspiration from attending the BIF Summit for two days. Or perhaps it is also my recent trip to the ‘left coast’ to run, hike, and research a few of the Bandon Dunes golf courses in Oregon.
We so often think of play as only a child’s activity. But what about adults? And how do landscape architects design spaces with play in mind? Now I spend much of my time pondering adult play in a very focused way as a golf course architect. Golf is adult play, so much that we are struggling to get children, even generation Xer’s interested. But what about the other 90% of Americans? Since they aren’t golfing, what are they doing?
First, we should ask is adult play necessary? Absolutely! Our often hectic lives of work, running households, and family activities, etc. leave little time. But outside the routine of our normal lives, what do you do to re-kindle your spirit… your youthful energy? Are there moments every day that you let loose or do you wait for those epic adventures?
We know that play is essential to a child’s social and intellectual growth. Free, unstructured play, even by adults, opens the imagination and fosters ones creativity. We also need play to give us the opportunity to make mistakes and errors, so that we can learn from them and grow. If you mess up at bat while playing baseball, you strike out; mess up at work and you might get fired. There may even be a connection between a lack of ‘rough and tumble’ play and ADHD.
I am self proclaimed ‘free player’ of many activities. Being outside is fundamental, though I will enjoy a good board game. Yes, I golf on a very random schedule; approximately once per month. My expectations are real; I’m not playing with Jordon Speith anytime soon. I run, sometimes at a good clip and love to hike and especially climb. I’ve started rock climbing recently and hopefully that will help me transition to more climbing challenges. I play to challenge myself, re-learn my boundaries, and have experiences. These experiences have allowed me to ‘see’ a new creative way to design.
What I really am asking is not what you play, but how? I find play the best way to connect with friends. Cooking dinner could be considered play as well. Playing during travel can connect you with locals and be extremely rewarding. Taking a walk in the town you’re staying or even running through the streets can give you a true sense of the cultural network. Whether it is just a wave or hello, that connection helps you better understand the social fabric. It helps us understand how to belong to a group, a team, and even a neighborhood.
So get out and play. Connect with a neighbor or fellow hiker; connect with the other Y member ready for a swim. I’ve just bought snow shoes and can’t wait to try them out this winter. A Maine friend has even suggested a snow shoe 5k. So get off the sofa! Get creative! Don’t overthink it! Write your own story through play.