KOMPAN Playgrounds

Possibilities for play at Philadelphia’s parks, playgrounds, schools, and libraries.

Guest Post By Alexa Bosse

I am raising my family in the city. I am here for the job opportunities, the theater, the restaurants, the museums, the public transportation, the exposure to new experiences, and the amazing diverse community that challenges and supports me. I am also a play advocate.

Cities are changing. The amenities they offer are outweighing their obstacles as more families decide to raise their children immersed in the urban environment. Whether raising a family in a city is a choice or a necessity, it is our responsibility as designers of the built environment to create spaces for all families and children to meet, learn, and grow.

I haven’t always been a play advocate. First, I was an architecture student that managed to turn all building programs into landscape solutions. While my passion was in the creation of built objects, I knew that the landscape was an integral part of that, and in the development of public open space that the lives of communities can be touched. So I completed degrees in both architecture and landscape architecture, and worked as an architect for several years. During this time however, I also volunteered at the Community Design Collaborative, providing pro bono design services to non-profit organizations in Philadelphia, scratching the itch for landscape design with direct benefit to communities in my city.

Then I had twins.  This is to say, everything in my life changed.

I took every possible opportunity to be outside with my children, because it was clear that it was in the outdoors that they were happiest. Because I live in the city, it was difficult to find access too many play spaces, or opportunities for freedom to roam, but I found them anyway. I immediately understood the importance of play and play spaces as a critical aspect of a humane urban environment.

I also joined the staff of the Community Design Collaborative to manage a new program with a focus play space—Infill Philadelphia: Play Space. At the Collaborative, the notion of social equity, especially in respect to access to quality design, has always been at the core of our mission. Through the work of our volunteers, we have been able to bring communities together, engage in the tough conversations needed for collaboration, and provide access to design to the most under-served communities. By raising the awareness about the importance of design in revitalizing communities through the Collaborative design grants; we have developed partnerships with public agencies, community organizations, and all the members of the communities that they have touched through over 600 projects since 1991. This year, we turned our attention to opening up the possibilities for play at Philadelphia’s parks, playgrounds, schools, and libraries.

Play is a powerful human connector. It is during this time that one develops social skills, negotiation, collaboration, cognitive development, creativity, imagination, problem solving, curiosity, motor skills, and awareness of self. It is a chance to test limits and abilities, and then push those limits. Play brings people together – children, families, communities, cities. Yet the playgrounds that we know leave much to be desired. Why are we not creating opportunities for play, connection, and collaboration within the center of our communities? How does play become a part of our social space instead of that thing over there behind a fence? How is access to play vital for social equity?

Blanche A. Nixon/Cobbs Creek Branch Free Library of Philadelphia PLAY STRUCTURE | STORY STRUCTURE

Blanche A. Nixon/Cobbs Creek Branch Free Library of Philadelphia

This is the conversation that the Collaborative is having in Philadelphia. Through the Infill Philadelphia: Play Space initiative, we are promoting the value of play. With 25 years of the Collaborative’s experience behind me, and my passion for creating innovative play spaces in the city, we are engaging in a dialogue among designers, educators, public agencies, landowners, policy makers, communities, and families challenging the traditional notions of play and working together to encourage innovation and creativity.

As evidenced during the recent Play Space Design Competition, the interest in the notion of “where design comes into play” is of international interest. We were overwhelmed with submissions and celebrated the efforts with a packed auditorium this past Wednesday night as our nine amazing finalists presented their designs and three winners were chosen after presenting their projects to the awards jury.

I am not the expert on play, but by pulling great minds together we all have the opportunity to harness the enthusiasm of the design industry to have impact far beyond individual goals. Together we can strengthen communities through design.


Alexa BosseAlexa Bosse is a registered architect and landscape architectural designer. She is manager of a Collaborative Design initiative on play space in the city. Alexa earned a BA in Math and Philosophy from Belmont University and a Master’s in Architecture and Landscape Architecture from the University of Pennsylvania.

Helle Burlingame

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