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A Nature Play Space: Youth-Led Design for Youth-Led Play

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“This is a place where you can use your imagination,” Olmsted Parks Conservancy’s Director of Stewardship Matt Spalding said as he addressed a group from The Cabbage Patch Settlement House during a visit to Shawnee Park. “There is no wrong way to play here; we want you to see what you like and imagine how we can recreate that in Central Park.” Matt was leading children of varying ages through a design charrette to plan the Nature Play Space in Central Park. They began with a play and exploration session in Shawnee Park, where a generous gift from the Norton Foundation enabled the Conservancy to build a showpiece of a Nature Play Space.

The Cabbage Patch Settlement House is a nonprofit out-of-school-time provider located steps from Central Park in Old Louisville. In keeping with the community-informed approach to park planning, Olmsted Parks Conservancy engages the children of The Patch to gain input on what they would like to see in their neighborhood park. As the children hopped from log to log, playing “the floor is lava,” Matt encouraged them to think about how the elements at the Shawnee Park Nature Play Space could translate to Central Park.

Following the play session, the group headed to Central Park to get to work. “Here is where the bridge should be,” one participant said to Matt as he built a 3-D model. Other children made drawings, working together or separately depending on their preference. As the children were gently reminded that it was nearing time to go home, they quickly made last minute notes and illustrations before Matt gathered models and drawings to take back to the Conservancy for review.

We are excited to provide an environment that helps increase outdoor play and bring more children and families into Central Park. The Central Park Nature Play Space will expand play opportunities near the new Central Park Playground, providing flexible play elements and nature engagement. We can’t wait to put together a plan enhanced by all the amazing ideas from the children of The Cabbage Patch!

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