Friday, November 20, 2009

Profit Motive Scales Down Today’s Playground Equipment

Safety and design experts had a lot to say about the latest generation of playground equipment at a recent National Recreation and Parks (NRPA) trade show in Salt Lake City. A common observation was that manufacturers not only are cutting back by using cheaper materials, but they also are reducing the overall size of products such as slides and climbing structures.

This is being done simply to reduce overhead costs, instead of providing playgrounds with the best possible products. The unfortunate end result here is a less exciting and enjoyable playground experience for today’s generation of youngsters, who as it is spend far too much time indoors in front of screens within walking distance of the refrigerator. With the considerable rise in childhood obesity and health problems compared to generations past, playground activities and equipment should be as fun as appealing ever, not scaled down and cut back.

Sure, today’s playground gear may be softer and significantly safer, but can’t there be a happier medium? Why can’t today’s slides, swings and other playground attractions be safe and as much fun as equipment from the 1970s?

Women’s lifestyle website Divine Caroline takes us back to yesteryear with a photographic review of the elaborate, immense climbing structures, slides and swing sets circa a generation ago. The designs that currently dominate the landscape in parks and school yards all over the nation pale in comparison in terms of visual appeal and their ability to inspire fun and excitement.

This phenomenon of cutting back on the quality and overall enjoyableness of a product reminds me of what’s happening to our favorite food and candies, which used to be packaged in generous portions. Revamped, watered-down recipes are changing the taste and texture of all kinds of food products, while at the same time giving smaller portions. And yet the price constantly goes up.

Take my favorite snack from years ago, the Devil Dog, which sadly is no longer what it once was. Today’s version tastes like saw dust thanks to a totally changed ingredient formula. And like so many slides and playground climbing structures, it’s about half the size it was in its heyday.

Playground structures definitely should not go the way of the Devil Dog because outdoor play activity is essential to keep kids happy and healthy. Consumer feedback to equipment manufacturers would be a good start toward improving their products’ appeal and entertainment value.

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