Outdoor play area at the Folklore Museum Oberschönenfeld:
Inclusive, barrier-free, sustainable and near nature playground design in line with the new standard DIN 18034 for "playgrounds and public play areas".
Safety and cleanliness are key
By Stefan Bartho, team leader maintenance management and outdoor facilities,
STADT UND LAND Wohnbauten-Gesellschaft mbH
Berlin is bright, vibrant, attractive and a great place to live. In our capital city the state-owned housing associations play a key role in ensuring that the typical Berlin blend for which the city is renowned far and wide is maintained on a long-term basis. They do this by building, purchasing and renting apartments in the low- to mid-price market segment. In this context they also deal with playgrounds.
Playgrounds are meeting places across the boundaries of class, generation and culture. And in the more densely populated areas of the city in particular, in which there are very few local alternatives for open-air activities, they are an important element of the social infrastructure and often the starting point and venue for social interaction in its neighbourhoods. STADT UND LAND, with around 49,000 homes one of the largest city housing associations, currently has 387 playgrounds with a total area of around 50,000 m² of play and usable area. These are open not only to its tenants but also to the general public as a complementary offering to the city's public playgrounds and green and open spaces.
Each of these playgrounds, including their paths, green areas, trees and shrubs, waste bins and seating, is checked weekly for safety and cleanliness and, if necessary, serviced and cleaned. As with vehicles, the main annual inspection by the TÜV technical inspection association determines whether playgrounds are safe to use or in need of repairs.
Depending on the intensity of use and condition of the play equipment, a playground is typically used for ten years until more extensive maintenance work is required. Normally this entails the renewal or adaptation of fall protection areas, mainly consisting of sand, gravel or mulch, or the replacement of play equipment. Each year between 10 and 15 of STADT UND LAND's total of 387 playgrounds are redesigned by a garden and landscape design company with which the company has concluded a framework contract after a tendering process. This design is always created based on the existing facilities and in a far-sighted and timely fashion before the playground has to be closed for safety reasons.
In order to ensure that needs are met and that the playgrounds are also used, this is done in conjunction with the staff of the service office. These are the people who best know the tenants and their needs. Once the planning has been done, the contract for its execution is formally put out to tender to suitable companies via the tender platform of the Berlin Senate. This also explains – which isn't always directly evident from outside to providers of playground concepts and play equipment – why a company such as STADT UND LAND cannot make direct purchases or accept offers, even if they are very competitive.
From establishing the need for work on a playground through planning and tendering to completion of the project takes an average of twelve to eighteen months. The delivery times for the play equipment, when the items ordered are rather more elaborate combination structures that are not in stock and need to be manufactured after the order has been placed, can be up to ten weeks. The aim is to avoid carrying out the renovation works during holiday periods, though the complexity of the works and the large number of parties involved means this isn't always possible.
A total annual budget of between €300,000 and €400,000 is earmarked from the association's own funds for the maintenance and repair of playgrounds, which is ongoing. As a result, STADT UND LAND's playgrounds can be used by everyone virtually without interruption.
Higher one-off investments, generally amounting to five-digit sums in euros from its own funds, are required when significant refurbishment is carried out or new playgrounds are installed during more extensive renovation or new-build projects. An example are the playgrounds on the John Locke estate in Berlin Tempelhof, which underwent refurbishment from 2013 to 2018. The ten new playgrounds were designed to complement the existing city playgrounds. These were individually themed and equipped with corresponding play equipment to raise the profile of, and strengthen identification with, the estate. They were completed before the refurbishment project got underway so that the tenants affected by the work had somewhere to retreat to and relax.
When it comes to choosing playground equipment, STADT UND LAND tends to take a conservative approach and opt for what might be described as the VW Golf among playgrounds: for proven, classic, high-quality and durable golden oldies. As a company financed by rents in the low- to mid-price segment it would be hard to justify to tenants opting for trendy playground solutions that may not last long before losing their appeal or equipment that may have a high play value but which has high follow-up costs due to elaborate technology and high usage intensity. While there may be exceptions such as inclusive equipment that can also be used by children with disabilities, in general the cost effectiveness principle applies.
Although STADT UND LAND's playgrounds are also affected by problems such as vandalism, misuse and noise pollution, these are only occasional and neither long-lasting nor especially serious for a city the size of Berlin. Even though it is occasionally tempting to wish that some people could cast their minds back to their own childhoods and be a little more tolerant before complaining about the noise made by playing children, the positive effects for the residential environment and social interaction are so pronounced that every investment in playgrounds can be considered a good investment in the future of our society.