Teardrop Park is at the forefront of a playground renaissance, a renewed interest in how and where children play. In recent years, noted architects have turned their attention to designing playgrounds, even as public agencies and private charities dedicated to expanding children's access to playgrounds have sprung up. David Rockwell, best known for creating pleasure palaces like the Mohegan Sun casino, has designed a next-generation space, the Imagination Playground, to be built by the end of next year on a site less than a mile from Teardrop Park, complete with an array of tools and building materials and adult "playworkers" to facilitate the proceedings. The New York City Department of Parks and Recreation is in talks with architect Frank Gehry to build a Manhattan playground at a yet-to-be-determined site.
Safety concerns eventually remade the playground, according to Susan Solomon, an architectural historian and author of a history of American playgrounds. In recent decades, she argues, fear of personal injury lawsuits has shrunk the playground. Slides and swings today are lower, and therefore slower, than before. Raised platforms are girded by railings, and monkey bars are practically nonexistent. "The see-saw today," points out Solomon, "is pretty much a horizontal bar that hardly moves in either direction. It just kind of jiggles a little bit." School playgrounds in Broward County, in south Florida, now post "No Running" signs.
Even as the American playground was being tamed, the template for an alternative was emerging in Europe. In the 1930s, a Danish architect noticed that many children were ignoring the playgrounds he designed and playing in rubble-filled vacant lots instead. Turning those lots into playgrounds was simply a matter of installing an adult "playworker" to facilitate activities and make sure nothing catastrophic happened. "They were rough-and-ready, and quite anarchic places," says Wendy Russell, a lecturer in playwork at the University of Gloucestershire. Now somewhat more formalized, there are about 1,000 such playgrounds around Europe.