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Fun with Bears
LASN September 2015 Commentary

by George Schmok, Publisher

I was just watching a viral video of a grizzly bear rolling down a hill. The bear could have walked, but that would have been no fun . . . And this bear was definitely in it for the ride.

Then it struck me that the bear was just like the rest us. While we may be engrossed in serious business, or in a hurry to get from A to B, who doesn't, on occasion, take a little skip, change the pace to avoid a crack, or do something along the way to add an element of fun to the journey . . .

We go to parks, we climb trees, we fish, we explore . . . All to have fun. Is it some primordial instinct that has us honing our predatory scouting skills? Maybe. Is it a part of learning? Probably. Is it good for our health and well-being? Absolutely!

In putting together this Playground issue we looked at a ton of projects from all over the nation. Virtually every one carried a common theme . . . Fun! And even better . . . Outdoor fun.

Now I know that LASN has a lot of readers in their 20s and 30s who have spent a great deal of time behind the controller of a video game or two or three . . . Heck, even I can hang with the team against the 'bots' in Call of Duty, and it is a lot of fun, but there is nothing like getting outside. Unless it's just miserable outside, I'd take an hour of airsoft or paint ball over an hour of COD anytime. And when I was younger the only miserable weather was the dark cloud of having to stay inside to do homework . . .

As Landscape Architects you are serious professionals. Yet, aside from such things as mitigating damage and directing stormwater, the vast majority of your work is about adding life to a project; in adding life you are, if nothing else, giving the eyes something enjoyable to look at. It's hard to deny that walking through a landscape is almost always more enjoyable, dare I say, more fun than walking along a concrete sidewalk.

That's why there are so many parks and so many playgrounds. Just walking and enjoying the senses of place is enjoyable to most, but if you are kid, fun is a requirement. Muscles need to be stretched and tested. Boundaries and limits are all there to be explored and expanded. As Landscape Architects and as park and recreation professionals you have been tasked to ensure that there are places where fun is the object . . . Far and away from the monitor and joystick.

And if you are going to have fun, you may as well learn something along the way . . . That's why we are seeing more and more play elements in parks that are also meant to help the kids learn something: musical instruments, pathfinding, street names, flora and fauna details, ships and masts, history and even the alphabet have all become regulars in our playgrounds. I mean . . . If you are going to learn something, what better way than to be having fun doing it. In a lot of these projects I'm not even sure the kids know they are learning something, but I suspect the designers and townsfolk had fun coming up with the ideas . . .

Finally, as you explore this issue take a moment to look at the faces and ages of those in the pictures. Of course you will see the wide toothless smiles of the youngsters. More interesting, though, are the smiles on faces of the more mature. I interpret them as having just as much fun, but adding an element of embarrassment at being "old" and still somehow finding fun on a swing or a slide.

Is it instinct? Is it a part of learning? Is it necessary? . . . Who knows? But what I do know, what the bear knows, is that there are always two ways of doing things. Sometimes you have to walk the straight and narrow to get there on time and on task. But if there's a chance to have some fun along the way, almost everyone I know will reach for that brass ring.

So, congratulations to the firms for their projects showcased in this issue. I hope you had as much fun working these projects as we did exploring them and, more importantly, as much fun as those who are using them every day!

God Bless . . .
George Schmok, Publisher

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