How is a park more than a park? At first thought, one may think of a park as a fun way to pass the time on a nice afternoon. However, something that does not come to mind when thinking of a park is the large impact the surrounding environment has on the learning and social development of children. Research has proven that while playing outdoors at a park, children begin to exercise independence and self-confidence as well as developing friendship formation skills. These personality traits begin to develop at a young age and can branch from interacting with those who supervise and participate with them in park play. The type of interactive learning in a park setting allows family, friends, and other community members to be involved in various stages of child development.

background research 2

The connection between the park environment and early childhood development can be visibly observed in well-designed parks. For example, the outdoor environment alone plays a large role in childhood development. Playing outdoors creates a large degree of freedom that gives children the opportunity to explore and experiment in different activities that produce various challenges as play evolves. (Tovey, 2007). These opportunities involved in outdoor activity promotes the development of communication and negotiation skills, important factors in friendship formation.  In addition to an outdoor environment, community also has a large impact on early childhood development in park play.  For example, children who come from disadvantaged homes are less likely to be encouraged to participate in recreational, physical activities. In turn, this may prevent children from reaping the full benefits of social development that accompanies park play.  Safety concerns and lack of facilities within the community may also prevent children from participating in recreational play.

In addition to an outdoor setting and community impact, physical park design also influences early childhood development. Specifically, fixed play equipment provides few opportunities to explore, experiment, and take risks. In turn, structured equipment limits creative and intellectual stimulation of children. Based on our conducted research, natural park designs create an interactive environment that is ideal for opening the type of experiment opportunities that promote social development (Woolley & Lowe, 2013). In a natural setting, children can utilize the variation of seasons to influence the type of play that they engage in. In addition plants can be used to surround a park or line a pathway to serve as an aesthetic, alternative barrier for uniform fencing. Natural pathways can lead children through different areas of the park, preventing them from predominantly focusing on one piece of play equipment in one particular area.  The freedom of a natural and open play space allows children to develop skills that are not promoted by the traditional, closed-off park equipment.

Open and natural park space is hard to come by in South African communities. However, Maitland Garden Village has a community park with the potential for expanding into a space for people of all ages. Perseverance Park is a green area with plenty of open space for free play and several pieces of park equipment.  Due to these attributes, the park is in an optimal state to be redeveloped, with the promotion of early childhood development and community involvement incorporated into a new design and its implementation.  The residents of Maitland Garden Village are interested in enhancing Perseverance Park for every member of the community.
The goal of this project is to assist the Maitland Garden Village community in redeveloping Perseverance Park by proposing a plan for the design, implementation, and sustainability of the park.  Our research has been focused on early childhood development in relation to park design and methodology in incorporating community input throughout the process as for them to develop personal investment in the park. Our team will work with co-researchers from Maitland Garden Village and the City of Cape Town Parks Department to evaluate the current state of Perseverance Park and to assess other local parks in Cape Town to plausible design ideas.  These co-researchers will be our link to the community; together we will engage in discussions and hold focus groups to gain insight on community’s hopes for the park.  Together, as a final result, we will propose a park design in which the residents of Maitland Garden Village will thrive.