John Metcalfe was CityLab’s Bay Area bureau chief, covering climate change and the science of cities.
Originally hailed as a death trap, the jungle gym has now become a beloved part of Moscow.
Here's a bizarre playground that mixes equal feelings of awe and curiosity, plus a fear of eye-splinters.
It's the product of four years of sweaty work by Andrei Salnikov, a Moscow engineer who decided to build his children a jungle gym based on Europe's classic fairy tales. That hut that looks like it might be used by African freedom fighters is actually the lair of the deformed witch Baba Yaga, who zooms around in a mortar waving a pestle. The vessel waving an old tarp for a sail is the Flying Dutchman, a ghost ship that can never enter port. The trailer-hauling truck is the work vehicle of Viktor the Goblin, an immortal junk hauler who collects scrap metal for meth money. (OK, I don't actually know what the truck is about.)
Salnikov fabricated his forest settlement with scrap wood, car tires and gnarly tree roots, adding a strange jewel into the canon of creepy Russian playgrounds. It seems to exude a magnetic effect on tots, and several parents interviewed by news outlet RT expressed approval of its organic materials over other metal (and potentially tooth-chipping) playgrounds in the neighborhood. As one mother said, "Those other playgrounds – we've had enough of them. They are all the same, with no love or fantasy in them – same slides, same swings."
The DIY play area at first attracted criticism from some parents who deemed it unsafe and unsanitary, and their complaints prompted the authorities to discuss tearing it down. But after even more parents fought against the structure's destruction, the city decided to give it a rehab job instead. And so Salnikov's world of bark allegories has become a beloved stopping point for Muscovites trying to calm down hyperactive kids.
Side note: If this thing looks familiar to people living in California, it might be because you've passed by Berkeley's child-designed Adventure Playground. Both jungle gyms reflect the concept of "adventure playgrounds," which the City of Berkeley explains thus:
The concept for Adventure Playgrounds originated in Europe after World War II, where a playground designer studied children playing in the "normal" asphalt and cement playgrounds. He found that they preferred playing in dirt and lumber from the post war rubble. He realized that children had the most fun designing and building their own equipment and manipulating their environment.
(H/t to Urbanshit.)