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02-22-21 | Department

The Top Five Playground Industry Trends for 2021

Inclusive, Rope-Based, Outdoor Fitness and More
by Kent Callison, GameTime

Data and feedback from leading parks professionals, landscape architects and educators helped determine the top trends in park and playground products for 2021. The top five include inclusion and social equity, embracing the natural landscape, community health and wellness, using outdoor spaces for learning and environmentally responsible play and activity.
Outdoor fitness is among the top five playground trends, like GameTime's obstacle course and workout area at David Carnes Park in Memphis, Tennessee.
Outdoor fitness is among the top five playground trends, like GameTime's obstacle course and workout area at David Carnes Park in Memphis, Tennessee.

As we start a new year, we look back at the unprecedented year behind us and the importance of our parks and playgrounds. While 2020 brought many closures around the country, limiting recreational activities for people and families, we anticipate to see these top park and playground trends this year as a way to improve our communities and the challenges they face.
"As an industry leader in innovation and improvement, GameTime hopes to shed some light on park & playground trends for 2021," said Fred Wiechmann, Vice President of Marketing and Product Development for the company. "By keeping our finger on the pulse of the industry, parks and recreation professionals, landscape architects, school administrators, and other playground professionals can provide the communities they serve with updated, accurate information on the state of play."

1. Inclusive Playgrounds
The first major trend for 2021 is the growth and improvement of inclusive playgrounds. Although accessible, universally designed playgrounds have been increasing in popularity over the past few years, the year 2021 will take these playgrounds to another level. In 2020, architects and designers expanded on the concept of inclusive design to move beyond the basics of meeting ADA standards. Using research and design best practices, like the information found in Me2: 7 Principles of Inclusive Playground Design®, a design program developed in partnership with Utah State University, Center for Persons with Disabilities, playground designers consider the role of accessible playground equipment and multi-generational play in the pursuit of social equity.

As the playground manufacturer nears their second century of playground design, they plan to continue to leverage inclusive play to bring people together and overcome societal barriers. In the coming year, and beyond, comprehensive inclusive play will play an integral role in the industry's approach to playground design.

2. Rope-Based Playgrounds

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Working around the natural environment of a play space is often an obstacle for playground designers. Many planners and landscape architects overcome this situation with rope-based play and nets. Playground nets like the VistaRope product line give designers flexibility in their designs.

The company states they can help communities embrace unusual topography. Instead of working around the challenge of the landscape, communities will connect the natural environment with the play environment through the use of custom-design rope courses and net climbers.

3. Outdoor Fitness
Since the COVID-19 pandemic struck the U.S., many gyms and fitness centers have closed their doors. These closures forced people to find alternative ways to exercise and promote fitness.

Communities throughout the country realized the importance of providing outdoor fitness areas. Whether it's by installing a traditional outdoor fitness area or an obstacle course, communities will begin to encourage health and physical fitness to people of all ages with outdoor fitness spaces in 2021.

4. Outdoor Learning
Also occasioned by the pandemic, outdoor classrooms and learning areas now replace or supplement indoor learning. All data indicates this trend will continue through 2021 as more schools shift classes to an outdoor setting.
Outdoor classrooms encourage play and activity in children, and they counteract the reduction in recess time due to remote learning and hybrid class schedules. Companies are accommodating these needs with seating, tables, shelters, hand sanitizer stations, and other outdoor products to help schools move classes outdoors.

5. Human-Powered Play
There is a growing interest in providing electronic, interactive play without the need for replaceable batteries. More than 15-billion expired batteries end up in landfills around the world each year. The answer to this environmental issue is human-powered electronics.

With human-powered electronic play, users engage in physical activity of some sort to "power-up" the activity. This may include turning a handle, repeatedly pressing a foot pedal, or rotating a wheel. These innovative products feature sensory-rich experiences like lights and music, story-telling, or social games.

Because of their environmentally sustainable nature, lower maintenance costs, and fun, engaging activities, human-powered play products will power imaginations of children throughout 2021.

Looking Ahead
Although 2020 has been a tumultuous year to say the least, these five trends point to one positive prospect for 2021: more human-to-human interactions. Perhaps now more than ever, people are realizing the value of social connections, even in a physically distanced environment. These trends will be instrumental in cultivating these connections in the coming years.

As seen in LASN magazine, January 2021.

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