breaking new ground in play & accessibility
After more than three years of visioning, analysis and diligent design, December 4 marks a momentous day for residents of Grand Prairie and across the Metroplex. The ground is breaking, dirt is churning, to bring the first phase of PlayGrand Adventures — the 10-acre, all-inclusive play environment associated with Epic Grand Central, which is a visionary consolidation of public amenities and open space — to a built reality.
Part of Epic Grand Central — a multifaceted regional hub of recreation, art and enlightenment for people of all ages — PlayGrand Adventures is a grandiose play environment not only for its tremendous size, but for the depth of research that informed its development, the array of experts who helped shape it, and its inclusive nature that accommodates play opportunities for all ages and all physical ability levels.
The City of Grand Prairie must be commended for having great vision and wherewithal to undertake the process of providing its citizens with a community-defining destination like The Epic — and for being an engaged partner throughout the design and development process. Early in the process, several TBGers and City of Grand Prairie staff members toured other precedent projects across the state, gaining insights into what was working and not working at other notable playgrounds, and one municipal official even traveled to California to benchmark significant playgrounds there.
Equally as important as the playground’s all-inclusive nature is its ability to engage children and adults in meaningful interaction characterized by social and sensory immersion. The playground design encourages kids and adults to work together in the play experience, like taking turns helping each other up a ladder or going down the slide, which helps foster a sense of empathy and well-being for others as well as feelings of accomplishment.
The design for PlayGrand Adventures organizes distinct program areas, or pods, into a unified play environment that accommodates an array of uses and types of play. The first phase includes the playground’s adventure zone and adventure hill, which represent the highest-intensity play features, with opportunities for climbing, swinging, spinning and enjoying long vistas atop the adventure hill, which encompasses a 14-foot grade change from bottom to top and a 30-foot-tall observation play tower.
The key overall aspect to the playground design, universal accessibility, extends beyond providing access to all ability levels, it includes techniques to help differentiate areas as well as spaces for solace and refuge. For example, the intensity of the poured-in-place surfacing becomes bolder in color as one approaches an actual play feature, so those with depth perception issues can still lucidly orient to and navigate the setting. Light-colored access aisles become brighter or darker as the user approaches various equipment.
In addition, each pod includes signage that matches the color of the poured-in-place surfacing, so even if a playground user can’t read, they can identify the particular color in the vertical sign and sidewalk striping. Distinctive coloring and plant materials define each zone and play area within the overall park. For those seeking solace, the tranquil adventures zone features a setting of muted colors, natural materials and more intimate spaces that provide a feeling of comfort.
Notably, much of the play equipment has been custom engineered to accommodate specific disabilities, whether it’s the use of wheelchairs, visual impairments, use of cochlear implants, inability to perspire properly, etc. For instance, all towers have accessible play at the lower levels and opportunities to work with the site’s grade to help kids engage others above them. As part of this design process, parks staff engaged a director from Scottish Rite Hospital to review the design and individual play features to ensure they were meeting accessibility goals. This research-based design helped shape everything from the park’s overall framework to its most minute details, such as braille features being incorporated into all signage. Following completion of the phase one’s adventure areas, zones for sports, challenges and nature exploration, among others, will follow in ensuing phases.
Communities everywhere are seeing the benefit of providing usable outdoor space and play environments of all varieties for their local residents and visitors. The benefits are vast and they provide for a higher quality of life through wellness, increased interaction, area vitality and general joy. The City of Grand Prairie recognizes the importance of providing such an environment for its community members — and has worked diligently to create a play destination with tremendous appeal, and accessibility, unlike any others. Today, new ground is being broken.