Playing Rough

Melbourne’s New ‘Risky’ Playground Has Parents Torn

The playground, designed by artist Mike Hewson, looks more like an abandoned construction site than anything — and kids are loving it.

A new adventure playground in Melbourne, Australia has parents rethinking playground safety.
Mike Hewson/Instagrarm

For anxious parents, even the cleanest and most impressive public playgrounds can feel risky. Parents in Melbourne are torn concerning a new playground, designed by artist Mike Hewson, that purposefully contains the sharper edges of boulders and an overall “unfinished” appearance. Cinderblocks placed on boards with wheels hold up most of the structures, leaving some parents more than concerned.

The playground is “supposed to feel dangerous,” according to the City of Melbourne. Lord Mayor Sally Cap reassured nervous parents and said that the playground had been tested and is “as safe as we want[ed] to make it” for a “risk-placed playground.”

While some parents are appalled with the risky playground, others cannot wait to take their kids there. “Adventure playgrounds,” or playgrounds designed with the idea that kids should be able to take more risks, have divided parents for some time, but it turns out there is growing evidence that riskier adventure playgrounds are actually healthier (and even safer) for kids.

According to Vox, from around the 1940s to the 1980s, playgrounds weren’t always the standard plastic slide and climbing area that many parents are familiar with. They were abstract and no where near as smooth as modern playgrounds.

As litigation entered the public realm, however, playground designers started to opt for “safer” (aka sue-proof) playground designs. Still, as developmental experts point out, being able to take risks in a controlled environment is a great way for kids to build confidence and their risk assessment skills.

It’s also important to differentiate the terms “risk” and “hazard,” the latter of which can actually be dangerous. Hazards, like an exposed live wire, are potentially dangerous things that can lead to injury to an unexpected person. Risk, on the other hand, is something that could potentially be dangerous — like an extra high diving board — a person is aware of. Adventure playground are designed with the latter in mind.

In controlled environments like adventure playgrounds, children can practice their risk-assessment skills, which pay off later in life. It also helps build resilience, which can thwart potential anxiety and risk-adverse, isolating behaviors as an adult.

Would you let your child play on an adventure playground? Here’s more about the history of adventure playgrounds for any parents curious (but nervous) about letting their kids play on risk playgrounds.