Thursday, October 30, 2014

Saving the American Playground From Itself

by Susan G. Solomon
author of The Science of Play: 
How to Build Playgrounds That Enhance Children's Development

The American playground today fails as a resource that could help kids mature or prepare for unidentified future ordeals.

Unlike the exciting playgrounds of the 1950s and 1960s, today’s typical playgrounds are maintenance-free caged areas that emphasize safety more than critical thinking, smart reasoning, hopeful investigations, or thrilling adventures. In the UK, they have a nickname for this standard structure: “KFC”: Kit for low, directional, unchallenging equipment; Fence for the ubiquitous enclosure that cordons off area for kids; Carpet for the expansive uninterrupted flat, squishy surface. Here in the US, we could also add “P”—for Parents who hover and direct how their children experience this limited scope of play.

In addition to the easy upkeep of these boring playgrounds, they’re often prohibitively expensive for schools or communities to purchase.

In my new book examining the link between playground design and child development, The Science of Play, I illustrate several ways to break away from this mold and to create places that allow children to explore, to take limited risks, and to make friends.

And my favorite examples of these solutions are those that use inexpensive or repurposed materials. Even someone’s “junk” can find its way onto the playground and be a revitalizing force!

Here are a few playgrounds—along with some actionable advice!—from around the world that break the playground mold and show how you can create enriching environments for not a lot of money:


1. Re-imagine the swing set.


How much does a sling swing cost? Maybe $50, including the chain. The design firm Carve, in the Netherlands, created an affordable swinging/climbing contraption by varying the height and position of the off-the-shelf swings.


2. Mine a construction site for reusable scraps.


Architects Haugen/Zohar in Trondheim, Norway, took advantage of local wood construction and secured pieces from a nearby building site to erect this conical Fire Hut. In the depths of winter, children enter the hut and surround the fire to chat and stay warm.


3. Use old tires for more than just ground cover.


This twelve-square-meter cube, called the "Cave," is built from preindustrial waste, recycled from the automotive and shoe industries, that would have been placed in a landfill or burned if it hadn't been repurposed. Architects Haugen/Zohar "carved" several exterior niches where children can place their found "treasures." And the interior, which has a secretive, almost spooky quality, allows kids to slither and slide through passages and to constructively get "lost."


4. Turn industrial waste back into an asset.


In Stavanger, Norway, an administrative hub of the booming oil industry, resourceful hometown architects Helen & Hard created an "otherworldly" landscape using an assortment of oil industry implements. This section of immovable balls has become a place to run and jump, do back flips and any number of crazy acrobatics.


5. Remember: one person's junk can be your playground.


Although so-called "adventure playgrounds" have a distinguished history in the UK, they've never gained a strong following in America. One exception is, of course, The Adventure Playground in Berkeley, California, opened in the late 1970s. Composed of a wide assortment of materials, odds and ends, including disused telephone poles, tires, hammers and nails, old pianos and harps, the space encourages children to try many things they have not tried before. Kids have used a board and some logs to create a seesaw from scratch—even though a real fulcrum seesaw is hard to find on the average American playground!


6. Even schoolyards should reclaim waste for play.

video

Take a look at this video, an appeal to British industry to help stock the Play Pods that the Children's Scrapstore provides in England.


ALSO OF INTEREST:

Once Upon A Playground: A Celebration of Classic American Playgrounds, 1920-1975



Monday, October 13, 2014

7 Reasons Everyone Hated Paul Revere




Under the moonlit New England sky, a lone figure on a majestic steed courageously brings the warning of an approaching army to the people of Concord and Lexington.

The myth of Paul Revere, perpetuated by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow and others throughout history, has endured to this day, and though the warning was real, the man who brought it was far from the universally admired figure that we think we know today.

Borrowing from his new book on the Revolutionary icon, The Court-Martial of Paul Revere, Michael Greenburg offers several instances in which the so-called hero fell well short of his legend:


1. After the midnight ride, no more free rides. 

After his midnight ride, Revere began submitting bills to the state for courier services which he routinely provided. In nearly every instance his charges were deemed excessive and promptly reduced by the legislature.


2. Even his mother? 

Ever the business man, Revere charged rent to his own mother for lodging in his North End home.


3. He once got mad at a hatter—really mad. 

In May of 1761, more than a decade before his famous ride, Revere was charged in the courts of Suffolk County for criminally “assaulting and beating” a hatter by the name of Thomas Fosdick, who was married to one of Revere’s cousins. Revere denied the charge and pleaded not guilty, but after a full hearing on the matter, Judge Richard Dana ruled, “it appears he is guilty.” The defendant was fined for his transgression and ordered “to keep ye peace & be of good behavior.


4. He helped “invent” the Tea Party. 


Revere was an active participant in the Boston Tea Party, which was in fact a meticulously conceived, major act of vandalism conducted by a band of hooligans bent on violent insurrection.


5. And the Boston Massacre, too. 


Following the Boston Massacre, Revere created a copperplate engraving that depicted the event in a generally inflammatory and inaccurate light. Though he profited by the prints that were widely circulated in newspapers of the day and were reproduced innumerable times throughout history, Revere was accused of misappropriating the work of a Boston engraver by the name of Henry Pelham. “I… find myself in the most ungenerous Manner deprived not only of any proposed Advantage but even of the expense I have been at as truly as if you had plundered me on the highway,” wrote Pelham in a scathing letter to Revere. “If you are insensible of the Dishonour you have brought on yourself by this Act, the World will not be so. However, I leave you to reflect and consider of one of the most dishonourable Actions you could well be guilty of.”


6. He didn’t suffer cowards well. 

In an effort to force five deserters to return to his artillery regiment on Castle Island, the fort on which Revere was commander, he gave the order for his cannon to open fire on an American war ship.


7. But he was worse at following orders. 


During the ill-fated Penobscot Expedition, General Peleg Wadsworth, the grandfather of Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, ordered a barge under the control of Lieutenant Colonel Paul Revere to be launched in the rescue of a besieged American Schooner. Instead of allowing his men to follow the order, Revere indignantly turned to the general and grumbled that his personal baggage and other belongings were stowed on the barge. “Who would thank [me] for loosing that, in attempting to Save the Schooner to the State?” said Revere. Wadsworth would promise Revere’s immediate arrest for the act and Revere would, in fact, face a court-martial for opposing Wadsworth’s order and for leaving the Penobscot River without orders to do so.


This has been reposted from Buzzfeed.com.

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

The Ship That (Finally) Conquered the Arctic

The Fram leaves Bergen, Norway, on July 2, 1893


by Charles W. Johnson
author of Ice Ship: The Epic Voyages of the Polar Adventurer Fram (ForeEdge; Oct. 2014)

The golden age of polar exploration is back!

Those glory years of the 1800s and early 1900s when intrepid and sometimes foolhardy adventurers tried to fight their way through the polar ice, north toward the Pole or east-west above the northern continents in search of a shortcut to the Orient—they're back in the news. That era of bold ideas, high adventure, and dramatic failure, worthy of the many tales following in their wake, has come alive for us again, in two new books and an exciting new discovery, all surfacing within weeks of each other.

First, the discovery. One of the most mysterious—and infamous—Arctic expeditions was Sir John Franklin’s 1845 disastrous attempt to find the Northwest Passage (sea route from the Atlantic to the Pacific above North American). Franklin, his crew of 128, and two ships disappeared, stimulating over thirty subsequent but futile expeditions from several countries to find them. Though there has been fragmentary, pieced-together evidence of their torturous journey, details have been shrouded in speculation for over the century and a half. But this September, the Canadian government announced that it had found one of the ships, recently determined to be the the Erebus, lying on the bottom of the Arctic Ocean in 35 feet of water, off King William Island. From this wreck may come important new information about the trials and fates of those unfortunates.

Nansen's polar expeditions, 1893-96. Click to enlarge.
The North Pole was a later goal, not to find shortened trade routes such as the Northwest or Northeast Passages, but for the fame and attention it would bring to the explorers and their nations. But the high Arctic had kept its secrets well, for no one had been able to breech or surmount the formidable ice to find out what it really was. Many then believed it to be an open ocean, or on a continent within that ocean. Many, too, had tested their wills to reach the Pole, whatever they thought it was, and all had failed, often in suffering and tragedy. One of these was George De Long, captain of the refitted American vessel Jeannette, whose story Hampton Sides tells in his fine new book, In the Kingdom of Ice. The Jeannette was crushed in the ice-bound waters north of Siberia in 1881 on its quest for the Pole. What followed was a harrowing tale of disaster, death, and chance survival as the crew struggled across a thousand miles of ice and water to reach help of Siberian natives.

But the Jeannette itself did not completely disappear with its sinking. In a cruel yet momentous irony, the Jeannette’s demise—and the lessons from it—led directly to the creation of the Fram, the most innovative, successful, and celebrated ship in polar exploration history. It happens to be the subject of my new book, Ice Ship: The Epic Adventures of the Polar Adventurer Fram.

Three years after the Jeannette went down, bits of it and a few possessions of the crew turned up on a floe off southern Greenland, three thousand miles away across the top of the world. From these battered, translocated clues, Norwegian explorer-scientist Fridtjof Nansen divined what he thought the Arctic was—a vast ocean covered with drifting ice, not the imaginary open ocean or even rock-solid continent the Jeannette was trying to find.

The Fram, under construction.
Over stinging criticism by renowned explorers of the time, he set out to prove his theory, building a ship like no other to withstand the lethal ice and taking it on a one-way trip, locked in the ice for years, across the trackless north polar sea…or, as many believed, into oblivion. This ship, the Fram, was designed especially for life in extreme polar conditions. Its hull was smooth and rounded, to slide up when the ice began to press against it (“like a watermelon seed squeezed between the thumb and forefinger”). But if caught, the massive hull—triple-planked, more than two feet thick, and supremely reinforced side-to-side and top-and-bottom—could withstand the incredible, prolonged pressures of shifting, grinding pack ice. With elaborate insulation of living-quarters, it could keep the crew warm during the coldest times. It could carry enough provisions to keep thirteen men alive and well for five years, just in case they were frozen in that long.

The Fram survived three years locked in the Arctic ice (1893-96), drifting across the Arctic Ocean (to less than 300 miles from the Pole), from north of Siberia, not far from where the Jeannette went down, to popping out east of Greenland. In doing so, it was everything that Nansen hoped and dreamed, dealt with everything he foresaw. It vindicated his controversial ideas and methods. It proved his theory about the true nature of the Arctic and reshaped our knowledge of that vast region. It performed flawlessly and as planned. Everyone returned safely.

The Fram would go on other extended polar voyages and on to further acclaim. From 1898 to 1902 Otto Sverdrup took it on an extraordinary four-year venture in the Canadian Arctic, frozen in four winters, during which over 200,000 square miles lands west of Greenland were discovered, explored, and mapped. In 1910 Roald Amundsen, the first to guide a ship (Gjøa) through the Northwest Passage, unexpectedly took it to Antarctica, staging his famous, triumphant race with Scott to the South Pole.

My book, Ice Ship, follows the absorbing adventures of the Fram’s twenty-five years of active life and 84,000 miles of adventures, from the Arctic to Antarctic and back again. It paints pictures of the tough, resourceful, and often colorful men aboard. It also chronicles how the ship and its visionary Norwegian leaders succeeded where others had failed for so long and so consistently. Nansen, Sverdrup, and Amundsen—all adopting Inuit approaches to survival in the Arctic—showed the way polar exploration should be done: using a ship specially designed (not retrofitted) for the purpose; deploying small, more easily provisioned expeditionary forces; gathering food from land and sea; using furs and skins instead of fabric for clothing; traveling on ice with dogs, sledges, and skis; taking to kayaks on open water.

The Fram, restored and refurbished, now resides in its own museum in Oslo and is visited by tens of thousands each year. Whether you go there to walk its decks, or pick up Ice Ship after you've finished Hampton Sides' book, you will be taken on fantastic, enthralling voyages and adventures of another era, set deep in the vastness of the polar regions.