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Playground Safety and Vandalism, Part 2

By Arthur H. Mittelstaedt, Jr., Ed.D

This play structure has been heated enough to cause melting and folding of the poly material. "Property destroyed is much more likely to be publicly than privately owned," says Stanley Cohen, a former professor in the School of Criminology at the University of California at Berkeley. The target is depersonalized as belonging to "them" or, if in disrepair, belonging to "anyone."

Playground vandalism and other park facilities has been estimated at 2.5 billion a year in repairs and replacements. Other criminal activity, such as theft and injury no doubt equal that amount again. This direct loss does not consider the indirect costs attributed to the sacrifice of other budgeted items and resultant services that should be provided to the public.


When playground equipment is not constructed of heavy-gauge metal or plastic with tamperproof or welded fastenings and anchored by deep footings, it is not unusual to see it broken or defaced. Wood play structures should be massive and well-fastened and anchored with tamperproof bolts. Rope, small link chain, canvas and nylon equipment should be eliminated. Slash-proof plastic or rubber seats should only be used when body contact could be made with a moving object.

Plant Beds

Plant beds in playgrounds are islands of beauty, but their flowers, shrubs and trees are targets for vandalism. Plant beds should only be placed in highly supervised areas, well illuminated and elevated to prevent trampling.

Proper playground design is preventative. Play equipment should be constructed of heavy-gauge metal or plastic with tamperproof or welded fastenings and anchored by deep footings. --photo by P.M. Blough, Inc.

Statuary, Flag Poles and Monuments

These elements add beauty but unfortunately are also an invitation to vandalism. Flag poles should have their lanyards and pulleys removed, be constructed of heavy-duty steel or aluminum, have well-anchored footings and be in a lit area. Statues and monuments are graffiti targets. Rough-textured stone that is acid washable helps, as does illumination.

Aqua Features

Fountains and pools must be in illuminated and supervised areas. Specify concrete bases, underwater, unbreakable recessed lights and use concealed piping and conduit. Water features must be easy to drain and vacuum. Plexiglass covers are another idea.


Turf areas should be protect by posts or mounts to keep vehicles out. Skinned areas should be raked frequently. Fertilize and seed the turf with rye frequently.


In designing playgrounds, this check list should be considered to alleviate vandalism:

  • Location of the facilities in relation to each other.
  • Placement of alcoves, entrances, and columns.
  • Furnishings on walls.
  • Amount, intensity and location of lighting.
  • Walks in relation to walls, boulders, trees and other obstructions.
  • Location of signs, notices and other directions.
  • Type of fixtures.: urinals, walls, closets, dryers, and drinking fountains.
  • Number of flush or recessed wall-mounted fixtures.
  • Placement of detectors.
  • Location of rest rooms (visibility of).
  • Number of park entrance and exits.
  • Number of outdoor spot lights.
  • Accessibility of call boxes/alarms.
  • Location of benches, monuments and other structures.
  • Types of gates and locking devices.
  • Placement of mats, docks, sensors and other detection devices.
  • Widths of paths to permit emergency vehicle use.
  • Places for controlled group assemblies.
  • Adequate playground elements for all age groups.
  • Surveillance devices.
  • Maintenance points.

The following points should be considered: height of grass, weeds, underbrush, shrubs, trees, mounds, walls, hedges, railings and fencing; replacement of lighting fixtures/bulbs; gates/locks and fencing detection devices; litter, debris and junk; repair/replacement of any damage; general cleanliness; concern and attention by personnel; and elimination of dead trees and braches.

Vandalism Motives

A study Dr. Stanley Cohen, a former professor at the University of California at Berkeley School of Criminology, identifies meanings and motives behind vandalism, described as acquisitive, tactical, ideological, vindictive, play and just plain malicious.

"Property destroyed is much more likely to be publicly than privately owned," he says, because He of its anonymous nature and symbolic value. The target is depersonalized as belonging to “them” or if in disrepair belonging to “anyone.” Prospects are gloomy, he admits. (Ed note: Two words--security cameras.)

Conferences, institutes, courses and symposia for the designer can generate better understanding and the magnitude of the problem. Planning of services, designing and engineering of playgrounds and facilities as well as scheduling of events and activities must provide the deterrents.

We must analyze these processes carefully in our deliberations.

  1. Surveillance, lighting, alarms and other techniques. Are they useful? We must consider their proper place.
  2. Citizen involvement and commitment as a force.
  3. Professional involvement/commitment. Is it our job or someone else’s?
  4. Departmental manpower, material and machinery to do the job.
  5. The law. Whose authority and whose responsibility is vandalism?

Other Considerations

There is virtually no literature in any design journals, magazines or books on improving the safety and security of playgrounds, parks and other facilities. Consideration to special needs and interests of each age group should be incorporated in each playground and in its maintenance. Equipment should relate to the varied but predominant age group in the community to keep them constructively occupied. Lack of funds is no excuse for no maintenance programs.

Apprehension of liability should not deter challenging and imaginative playground designs. Good design and materials should also reduce maintenance. Hard rubber, glazed tiles, washable epoxies, recessed fixtures, steel pipes, and many other treatments, finishes and fixtures are less susceptible to vandalism.

Landscape architects should participate at all stages of planning new playgrounds. Recognition of imaginative activities, innovative approaches and creative concepts where activities can be effectively conducted and supervised and where safety precautions can be maintained should be considered by every designer. A massive effort should be launched to identify and classify all satisfactory results of good design that have proven successful in deterring vandalism.

There is no central reference source to assist the designer, consumer or provider in reducing crime and vandalism. Communication with young people is important. We need to elicit their assistance in citizen safety programs.

Rest rooms, picnic and play shelters are prime targets for vandalism and unruly gatherings. These must be location in open settings, without hiding places. Window fixtures, doors and equipment are damaged or removed when structures are tucked away from view. Consolidation of signs avoids clutter and also eliminates hiding spots.

Reduction of entrances to parks helps in applying adequate supervision/surveillance. Fences, barriers, islands or plant areas helps separate activities and age groups.

These issues must be recognized and these important problems solved. The priority must be to upgrade playgrounds through new innovative and effective approaches by a concerted effort of all the disciplines that affect playgrounds, parks and fields.

Local agencies should have property damage repaired immediately. Playground and recreation agencies should evaluate and offer positive approaches to dealing with vandalism, including meeting the needs of community youth through organized activity programs and the encouragement of peer responsibility.

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October 15, 2019, 4:59 am PDT

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