Kids Designing Their Own Playgrounds


What happens when kids actually get involved in designing their own playground? Ask the community surrounding Atlanta’s Chastain Park, the only public playground serving the 85,000 school-age children within a 5-mile radius.

The park hadn’t been renovated since 2000 and had a lot of deficiencies, primarily only appealing to a small demographic (ages 5 through 12), and the majority of the play structures were too dangerous for smaller children, yet not challenging enough for older children.

Enter play specialist consultant Cynthia Gentry, an expert in childhood development who met with school children from the surrounding community to begin the design concepts. Kids were asked to imagine what they’d like to see on the playground and put that imagery into drawings, which became the inspiration for the all of the designs.

Gentry then enlisted the help of another consultant, Robin Moore, who specializes in nature-based play, currently a strong movement in childhood development circles. Together, Gentry and Moore conducted a charrette, or meeting of the minds, with representatives from the private school located inside the park’s grounds, local public schools and pre-schools, civic associations, the parks commission and various members of the community. At the charrette, the group reviewed all of the children’s drawings and synthesized them into rough design concepts. A second charrette was held at North Carolina State to compound all of the concepts into one overall design.

Permeable pavers and other measures were used to meet stormwater requirements at Chastain Park in Atlanta.

Landscape Architect Bill Caldwell took the ball from there, handling permits and turning the master plan into design documents for drainage, utilities, elevation, landscaping, hardscaping and construction of the restroom pavilion. Caldwell contracted renowned water resources engineer consultant Bill Jorden to develop the stormwater management plan to meet all of Atlanta’s ordinances for stormwater runoff quality and quantity.

“Our goal was to not create a detention pond on a beautiful site of rolling hills and historic oak trees,” he says. “I also didn’t want to have to convert the flat spaces currently used for open play.”

With the help of permeable pavers and segmental retaining wall, the team conserved land, met stormwater requirements and saved a significant amount of money in the process. Caldwell was even able to create a playground out of what was formerly unusable space.

“I love the fact that we took a hillside with a 12- to 15-degree slope that was basically nonfunctional and turned it into a 1-acre parkland that is a highly functional and usable space and has become a high-value component of the park,” he says. “We created something out of nothing.”