I wrote recently about the peculiar UK notion that school grounds should be sequestered, fenced or walled enclaves effectively unavailable for easy use by the school’s local community. The fact that school grounds are sometimes used for planned and organised ‘community’ events does nothing to weaken the points I sought to make.
Particularly in areas where general park or open space is limited, this barricading against wider community use seems particularly ill-judged. Other countries manage things differently, Sweden for one, and parts – I do not have full information – of the USA, certainly.
Photos by Sharon Danks, Bay Tree Design
I happen to be in Berkeley, California, at the moment, and here some school at least have a more open policy. The pictures are of the signs at the boundaries marking the dividing line between school and park; park and street. The park section is used by the school during school time, and is open to the wider community at all other times. It takes but a minute’s thought to appreciate that the ‘rest of the time’, is quite substantial: after school, weekends, school holidays.
The signs raise questions, for example, why is the park closed when kids are in school time? ‘Stranger danger’, I hear you say. Well, perhaps that’s a valid reason. Or perhaps that reason is freighted with assumptions that it is time to challenge. But that is not the point of this short piece. My aim is simply to share with you the signs, and what they bespeak.
I thought I’d give this blog an American slant since I’m here in the San Francisco area talking about, well, risk, standards, parks, (over) anxious parents – that sort of thing.
I’m here courtesy of the efforts of Lisa Howard and Sharon Danks, both of Bay Tree Design and the International School Grounds Alliance (ISGA), a grouping that is slowly extending its reach and gathering its strength. Long in the preparation, and cooked slow for added succulence, the developing international alliance draws on, and contributes to, the expanding knowledge-base – both theoretical and practical – of the benefits and challenges involved in greening school grounds. A key component of its belief system is that school grounds are for the community as a whole, and not to be treated as sequestered enclaves for school use alone. (PLAYLINK declares an interest here, it is one of the founder members, but credit for ISGA’s conception and its activities, belong elsewhere).
Public Playground Safety Handbook
In preparation for this trip, I took a look at the what appears to be the bible for American playgrounds, the ‘Public Playground Safety Handbook’, published by the Consumer Product Safety Commission. Here in California it is effectively mandatory to adhere to its provisions for all projects involving public money - this effectively captures, for example, most schools, parks and public playgrounds.
Sophisticated readers, and adepts in the language of play and risk, will almost certainly have given an involuntary start on seeing the word ‘safety’ in the handbook’s title.
Independence of spirit begets independence of mind. Kill or constrict that spirit, then voice and action become stilted or stilled. Individuals, replete with verve and spirit succumb, or feel required to succumb, to institutional anaemia, one symptom of which is the valorisation of ‘pragmatism’ as the overarching, but unspoken, organisational value.
Pragmatism tends to be self-justifying. By its nature it lends itself to assessing each move or settlement as the only one ‘practically’ available. ‘We are where we are’ and where we are is here, a place not so much of our making, but a nifty accommodation with what we thought was possible. What was thought possible was already discounted goods because where pragmatism reigns supreme, other reference points are paled-out and diminished. Continue reading
Key landholdings effectively divorced from their surroundings?
Sites of containment and control?
Not perhaps the conventional way to describe school grounds, but perhaps useful imagery to jolt us out of assumptions which, in the UK at least, seem so embedded and habitual that we cease to see what is before our eyes and within our daily experience.
I want to speak about school grounds – also called school playgrounds – and the way, in the UK at least, these landholdings are effectively sequestered sites, their backs turned to the local community and neighborhood their boundaries marked by fence, wall and bolted gate. Although appearing on maps, our internalised local mental geographies effectively blank-out school grounds classifying them as prohibited or semi-prohibited places, achieving by ourselves what state-instructed cartographers achieve when they omit sensitive military sites from everyday maps: the erasure of place. Continue reading
The limitations of training
I’m prompted to write about the limitations of training – a long held view – because I suspect we are about to see at least a minor surge in authorities and organisations commissioning ‘training’ in risk-benefit assessment. To the degree that this indicates a growing commitment to making judgments about provision for play from a risk-benefit perspective, this is to be welcomed.
It’s worth noting, however, that a risk-benefit assessment technique is itself neutral – it has no opinion; it can engender a range of decisions, ones that can contradict each other. But those promoting risk-benefit assessment – me included – are anything but neutral about what they wish to achieve from a risk-benefit approach to assessing play provision. A conundrum, then, and worth a few words to reflect on it. Continue reading
Public good, industry, and providing for play
A ‘structural imbalance’ has been allowed to develop such that what constitutes public benefit in respect of children and teenagers’ play has been distorted by an overly influential play equipment industry. This article discusses industry, understood as commercial enterprise, and where decision-making about public benefit should be located. It is argued that, currently and for too long, public benefit decisions about play provision have been dislodged from their proper location – for example, publicly accountable bodies- to be captured by sectional interests. It is further argued that little blame attaches to industry, but that play provision providers have not fulfilled their responsibilities. Continue reading
In this article Bernard Spiegal discusses the role, scope and authority of external play provision inspections. The article is one of a number of papers, comments, blogs, presentations and articles being generated by members of The York Group.
The York Group, comprising Professor David Ball, Tim Gill, Harry Harbottle, Bernard Spiegal, has come together to contribute to thinking about risk and play equipment Standards. The York Group will also be publishing jointly authored papers.
Responsibility for the views expressed in this article is the author’s. The article does, however, introduce some key lines of argument for the group, to be explored further in both its individual and joint papers.
In the first article in this series – Play equipment standards: occasions of trespass – I argued that industry play equipment standards have been allowed to expand into territory not properly theirs, with damaging effect. In making that case, I drew a distinction between what should be two distinct ‘territories’: one concerned with technical information and assessment – the legitimate purview of play equipment Standards; the other, the area where value-saturated judgments should hold sway, judgments to be made locally by the play provision provider.
In that article, I suggested that once the distinction was accepted there is a discussion to be had about where precisely the ‘boundary’ between the two territories should be drawn. But the very notion of boundary is predicated on acceptance that there is territory available to be demarcated. I suspect there is some way to go before this is widely accepted. Continue reading