Young people and exercise – an urban play world in Maggie Daley Park in Chicago


Young people and exercise –  an urban play world in Maggie Daley Park in Chicago

In the very heart of Chicago, overlooked by the downtown skyscrapers, a generously proportioned recreational facility has been created on a 20-acre site named Maggie Daley Park. Since its completion in late 2014, the park has become a distinctive feature of the city and has proved to be a magnet for families with children of all ages and young people. The entrance to the park is itself remarkable: a pedestrian bridge designed by Frank Gehry spans the freeway between Millennium Park and Maggie Daley Park. The various climbing walls and the extensive ice skating ribbon are clearly visible from afar.

A particular attraction for the public has proved to be the playground on a 16,000 yd2 site that was partly constructed by the company Richter Spielgeräte based in Frasdorf in Bavaria, Germany. The concept is bold, diverse and surprising in terms of its aesthetic design and its didactic intention. In addition to a range of equipment such as play pyramids, a lighthouse with slide, a fishing boat with climbing nets, a harbour with cradle nests for the very young, the real highlights of the playground are the two over 30-foot high square towers with a 115-foot suspension bridge and a variety of integrated play elements. In addition to climbing, balancing and exploring height, big and small children can enjoy hide and seek and giving free reign to childhood imagination in role-playing games. They also experience up close different kinds of physical phenomena on encountering the rotating discs, the telescope and the turning stone.

What is unusual is that this world of play is not just visited by families with young children but is actively sought out by larger children and young people. It is exceptional to see so many adolescents trying out with considerable enjoyment the appealing slides and climbing equipment. There are no signs here of the youthful vandalism that often plagues children's playgrounds ‒ quite the contrary; in fact it seems that this site exerts a fascination that captivates all ages.

And there is another important factor in this connection: young people now tend to take too little physical exercise, a conclusion also reached by the cross-national comparative study 'Health Behaviour in School-aged Children' (HBSC). Sponsored by the World Health Organisation, the HBSC researchers investigated the health status of children of school age in 44 countries and regions in Europe and North America. In its final report published in 2014, the HBSC stated that it had found that the older children are, the more likely they are to become indolent couch potatoes. There is a drastic fall in the proportion of children who remain physically active between the ages of 11 and 15 years. Current international guidelines recommend that young people should take daily exercise for at least 60 minutes that increases their pulse rate and causes them to sweat. As it is, only a small percentage of young people actually manage to achieve this.

The more they want their digital games to be fast and furious, the less important regular exercise in the real world seems to become for them.

Modern technology in the form of smartphones and tablets ‒ devices that are particularly popular with young people ‒ is ensuring that even their tactile senses are being increasingly dulled. As the psychologist Dr. Martin Grunwald, director of the haptics research laboratory of the University of Leipzig explains: "Our environment as a whole is becoming ever more uniformly smooth with surfaces that hardly have any variation in texture. To put this plainly, the ambience accessible to our touch is now predominantly made of glass or plastic. Unsurprisingly, this correlates well with the alarm signals that have long been emerging as a result of research into school-age children. Deficits in motor skills and the fact that children do not take enough exercise ‒ we already know all this and there is adequate evidence to demonstrate this from studies. Now added to the tendency to take less and less physical exercise, children in particular are also experiencing their environment in increasingly monodimensional form. In the digital media, the complexity of the real world is reduced to just a few dimensions."

In view of these findings and the fact that children and young people are also prone to lose touch with the natural world, it is becoming progressively important to create free spaces and play worlds that will inspire them to take exercise and use their imaginations.

It is impossible to overestimate the relevance of sufficient exercise to the maintenance of the well-being of children and young people. With the proliferation of multimedia options and the unbalanced diets that many are now used to it is all the more crucial to ensure that children and young people can find a healthy alternative in play and sport. Only this will enable them to develop an appropriate sense of proprioception and train and fine-tune their coordination skills. Even older children can enjoy a game of catch, playing, hopping, jumping, climbing, horseplay and balancing ‒ all this helps them retain their mental equilibrium.

"Young people who are physically active will in all probability continue to take exercise when they are adults. It is thus imperative to make exercise a part of health-promoting policies for young people," states Dr. Jens Bucksch, Chief Scientific Officer of the WHO Collaborating Centre of the University of Bielefeld. Exercise is not just important for the maintenance of physical health, but also helps sustain psychological well-being. It has been demonstrated that young people can better concentrate, enjoy more restful sleep and are more effective at school when they take sufficient physical exercise.

Maggie Daley Park in Chicago, located as it is at the hub of a vibrant metropolis, is a particularly exemplary realisation of the form a play oasis for children of all ages can assume that is not only attractive but that can also contribute to their psychological development. The high towers with the conspicuous suspension bridge sit happily against the backdrop of the Chicago skyline. And, despite all the care that has been taken with the architectural elements, the most important aspect has not been ignored ‒ a play world has been created that gives pleasure to children and young people and makes an indispensable contribution towards their development; it is a site dedicated to what has been at the core of the corporate philosophy of the planners from Frasdorf for more than 40 years ‒ the promotion of play.

 

 

Image: Scott Shigley/Richter Spielgeräte

 

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