Green Playgrounds; Good for Kids, Good for the Planet
Most school playgrounds in the USA are covered in concrete or asphalt. A new study shows how these desolate, artificial places can easily be transformed into green spaces that benefit their communities and the planet.
The playgrounds at most schools in the USA are not great for kids or the planet. Most were designed at a time when the environment was not valued; they are artificial, desolate places with hard surfaces and plastic and metal equipment.
When it rains, the water runs off these impervious surfaces. When there is a climactic event like a rainstorm or hurricane, the water running off these large surface areas can often overwhelm the storm sewer infrastructure, causing widespread flooding.
In the summer heat, the temperature of an asphalt-covered playground can increase dramatically, sometimes as much as seven degrees, on a hot day.
The students themselves suffer: several studies have shown that children with access to green space perform better on cognitive testing than children in urban landscapes.
But this need not be the case. In a new study, researchers showed that the cost of refurbishing existing playgrounds into green spaces was around the same compared to refurbishing them to the traditional standard, yet the benefits were transformative.
Green spaces are permeable and will capture and store rainwater in rain events, slowing its speed and reducing the amount that enters storm sewers. On regular rainfall days, this can mean the grass surfaces and plants in the landscape can benefit from the water in the soil instead of requiring watering from city utilities.
Green spaces are cooler in the summer too. Compared to the asphalt-covered area mentioned above being 7 degrees hotter, a green space covered in trees and grasses can be 7 degrees cooler than the surrounding area. This difference can make a massive efficiency in the cost of running air conditioning in the schools themselves. Sometimes, it can mean the difference between life and death for the most vulnerable people in a community.
Research has shown that exposure to green spaces helps people’s brains, especially children’s developing brains. Humans did not evolve to live in urban areas, and exposure to nature can help symptoms of depression and anxiety. In the case of children, exposure to green, like trees and grass – even though a window – can help kids perform better on cognitive tests and academic performance.
If the cost is the same, and the benefits to our communities, society and the planet are so high, why aren’t we transforming all our school playgrounds into green spaces? We are; it takes time, but a growing movement is needed to re-wild these spaces.
With some luck and planning, more of our communities can look forward to easy access to green spaces and a calm, cool future.