In the summer of 2011, the New York Times published an article asking, “Can a Playground Be Too Safe?” It cited recent studies in the US and Europe documenting how antiseptic safety-first playgrounds may actually stunt emotional and cognitive development and leave children not only decidedly bored and under-stimulated but with skewed abilities to manage real-world risk later in life. The research also suggested that claims (made by the manufacturers, who had lobbied for stricter safety standards in the first place) that injuries had decreased overall thanks to the new play equipment may have been incorrect, and that total injuries may have actually risen due to the illusory perception of a danger-free zone. Either way, researchers agreed that mastering challenges, negotiating risks, and overcoming fears were critical to healthy play. It was 1966 all over again. By the end of 2011, there were discernible signs that a backlash to the counter-revolution was emerging. In Battery Park City, the removal of a solitary, recently installed tire-swing (that emblem of 1960s urban play freedom) after a child bumped her head became something of a bellwether, inspiring widespread mockery of what was seen as a farcical overreaction by a handful of Tribeca uber-moms and the neighborhood’s grousing safety militias.
more from James Trainor at Cabinet here.