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02.12.2021 - Ausgabe: 6/2021

Inclusion is trumps: a new playground for ALL children

By DI Astrid Feuchter (Department of Green Space and Open Space Planning, Department of Green Space and Waters, City of Graz)

© zwoPK Landschaftsarchitektur

Next year, the currently emerging Reininghauspark in the Styrian state capital of Graz (Austria) will set new standards with an inclusive playground that also enables children with different disabilities to have fun and exercise. The green oasis in the new district is already visibly taking shape.

With a surface area of around three hectares, the so-called Reininghauspark, will provide a densely built-up area in the new district in the Styrian capital of Graz with a "green oasis" from next May on. It should bring joy and recreation to all people, both residents and visitors of the new Reininghaus district. The city's first inclusive playground should enable really everyone to benefit from the joy and recreation offer provided. Thus, suitable equipment for persons with different types of disabilities or mobility impairments will be provided. The inclusive playground is just over 1,000 square metres in size and will be located on the southern edge of Reininghauspark.


Exercise and play for all guests of the park

"This play area will be composed of several parts: there will be an area for toddlers as well as one for teenagers. Sand playgrounds, a climbing and balancing course, park swings as well as zones for workout with training equipment to strengthen strength and endurance as well as bouldering blocks for climbing enthusiasts will round off the offer." However, the joy is already great among department head Robert Wiener and project managers Christine Radl and Astrid Feuchter from the municipal department for green spaces and waters. It is important to everyone involved to design an inclusive play area that attracts all guests. The concept is based on the fact that everyone has different abilities and needs. Accordingly, as many senses as possible should be addressed and promoted in an inclusive play area. Here, the focus will not be - as has been practised for a long time - on a specific type of disability, but on an offer which promotes all motor skills of the users. People of all age groups, regardless of whether they have a disability or not, should be able to use the playground equipment independently to the largest possible extent - according to the motto: not everyone can do everything, but there should be offers available for all kinds of users.


A total of 8.6 hectares of public green spaces in Reininghaus

A total of around 8.6 hectares of public green spaces will be available in the new Reininghaus district. The largest continuous area of this is the Reininghauspark with its approximately three hectares, of which around three quarters are green areas including perennial plantings and flower meadows. A water area with shallow and deep-water zones, divided into four basins with a total water volume of 1,350 cubic metres, covers about 1,800 square metres. Around 100 woody plants, 90 of which are tall large trees, provide oxygen and shade; 24 trees from the old stock in Reininghaus were retained. Five trees from the existing stock had to be replaced because they fell victim to the currently widespread ash shoot dieback. The facilities in and around Reininghauspark are complemented by a 1,600 square metre city terrace with a water feature, a market place and a pavilion with public toilets. The total construction costs for the Reininghauspark, including the city terrace and pavilion, are estimated at 8.4 million euros.


Clear commitment to inclusion on the part of politics

A clear commitment to inclusion on playgrounds also came from the outgoing mayor of Graz, Siegfried Nagl, whose credo was: "Public spaces are for everyone. And this should also apply to our playgrounds. Play must be possible for every child without exception!" This does not only apply to the playground in Reininghauspark and future projects, but also to the existing playgrounds which should also be equipped with inclusive play facilities. But already during the planning phase of the new Reininghaus district, which is to house more than 10,000 people and provide thousands of jobs on a former brewery site, great importance had been attached to including all interests and abilities. Accessibility and inclusion played an essential role from the first planning steps onwards up to the long since started implementation of the new district, in which the first flats have already been occupied. From people with visual or hearing impairments to people with limited mobility, all residents and guests of the new district should be enabled to move freely and feel comfortable.


Coordinated concept of the inclusive play area

Philipp Rode from the landscape architect’s office zwo PK explains the concept of the inclusive play area: "This playground takes up the functionalised children's and youth play with climbing, bouldering and balancing frames, movement and sand play as well as workout equipment for strength and endurance sports!" During the planning phase, the promotion of physical activity and sensory perception, social contacts, recreation, the experience of nature and creativity were taken into account. The spatially functional design of the elongated play area entails the subdivision into different areas, which are aimed at toddlers, children, adolescents and adults. The spatial arrangement is, however, a limiting factor for the selection of play equipment - due to the linear orientation of the play area, there is not enough space for very expansive play equipment. According to Rode, it is therefore important to develop a game flow through the sequence of play activities provided that also includes spaces for resting as well as areas for physical activity and exertion.

The result is a sequence of play stations lined up along the entire play area, providing an open, self-explanatory range of play directly on the socially dense promenade of the park quarters in the new district of Graz-Reininghaus. From a design perspective, the perceptibility and recognisability of the play area is of great importance. Larch squared timber is used throughout the structural parts of the play equipment, with varying heights from the toddlers' area to the workout. There are also pedestals that accompany the play equipment and provide informal seating and play opportunities. The colour scheme is based on a calm design with warm sand and grey tones, accentuated with spot colours. This conceptual background, together with the overriding importance of Reininghauspark, provides the basis for taking a step further towards an inclusive playground by means of additional elements and offers that are comparatively easy to implement.


Continuous wheelchair accessibility and guidelines

The first step was to embed the entire play area - i.e. the path along the 31 play stations - in a sensory guidance system. The guidance system meets the requirements of an inclusive playground through continuous wheelchair accessibility, haptically and visually recognisable "elements" incorporated into the flooring, and a 3-D park model for orientation and location. To improve the accessibility of the play area for toddlers at the eastern side of the play area, a path with a special fall protection surface leads through it and connects the nest swing, the playhouse and the mud table without barriers. The playhouse is designed without thresholds and additionally provides both visual stimulation with coloured light showers as well as acoustic stimulation with a speaking tube. In the hill-free play area, colour-coded and haptically perceptible surfacing elements lead from the guidance system to the slope slide and back again. In the sand play area, the wheelchair accessible mud table adjacent to the water pump is the centre of sloshing, muddling, splashing and social play.

In the central area of the park swings, the 3-D park model is placed for orientation. The adjacent climbing structure offers different climbing options in various difficulty levels as well as dense nets and rubber membranes as places to stay at. In addition, two brass bells mark the lowest and highest points of the net thus serving as acoustic incentives. The same equipment can also be found at the bouldering blocks, where one of the bouldering routes is equipped with outdoor ball bells to guide through the route just by hearing. The workout area also includes an unhooking option for people in wheelchairs. There a crossbar is mounted at a suitable height.


Planning challenge

From a functional point of view, the play area becomes more attractive as a whole and is accessible to a wide range of people without any impairments. From a planning and design perspective, integrating an inclusive approach to play can be a challenge, Rode admits. However, questioning one's own inner images and reflecting on the goal of the design are good guidelines for a satisfactory solution.

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