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Urban Playground: boys and girls assembling blue foam blocks Back to

A Playground to Inspire the Imagination

What does it take to create a children’s playground? A slide, a swing set, maybe a climbing structure or two. 

The average North American playground hasn’t changed much since they first popped up across the continent in the late 1800s.

 But while most playgrounds look pretty much interchangeable, there’s a growing movement towards “imagination playgrounds,” spaces where kids can interact with the landscape and structures around them to create their own fun. We wish they had this kind of place when we were growing up!

Kids playing with large blue foam blocks on an urban playground
Photo by Tom Moore

The most celebrated imagination playground is definitely the fabulous kid space i​n Manhattan, designed by American architect David Rockwell. In this urban playground, children play with big blue foam blocks of all different shapes and sizes that they can fit together to form structures, forts and tunnels in any way they want. Kids also have access to fabric, mats, wagons, sand and water – it’s really all about kids creating anything their minds can come up with.

Rockwell says he came up with the idea when he became a father and started spending more time in playgrounds.

“I began to see that [his kids] played most intently when they were using their creative skills and making up what they were doing,” he told Fast Company. “We wanted a park that not only lets [kids] be active in exercising their bodies and muscles but also exercising their minds and creativity.”

The concept is now being exported all over the world. Rockwell’s blue foam blocks and noodles are available for purchase as the “Imagination Playground in a Box”, and now, thousands are in use in schools, museums, community centres, parks, camps, daycares and hospitals.

You don’t need any special products to create an extraordinary Imagination Playground though. Just spend an afternoon at Dufferin Grove Park in downtown Toronto. There’s a traditional (and pretty great) playground there, but next door there’s an amazing space that’s constantly being designed and redesigned by pint-sized architects.

Group shot of children playing on alternative playgrund, surrounded by blue foam puzzle pieces  

Photo by Tom Moore

Kids play with large blue foam blocks

Photo by Tom Moore

Urban Playground

Photo by Tom Moore

Kids play on urban playground

​Photo by Tom Moore

Kids playing with large blue foam blocks on an urban playground

​Photo by Tom Moore

Girl playing with large blue foam block on an urban playground

​Photo by Tom Moore

The Dufferin Grove Adventure Playground is basically a large sandpit with a tap and a bunch of logs and shovels strewn over it. But the real magic comes when the tap gets turned on. Rivers begin to flow, trenches are dug, pools are formed, dams are built, bridges are constructed. It’s messy, it’s muddy and extraordinarily fun.

Another example of a wonderful Imagination Playground is Berlin’s Britzer Garten Playground. It features a “clay village” playground called Makunaima, with structures made of “cob” (clay and sand) that kids can climb on and walk through. The kids can make their own cob creations in hands-on workshops, and there’s a water component where kids can experiment with dams and water scoops.

What do you think of the imagination playground concept? Is there anything like this where you live? And if not, do you wish there were?