There has been a lot happening lately under the banner of “green.” At New Village we agree green is extremely important. We seek out projects, however, that go a few steps further than simple green to encompass whole-systems thinking and integrated ecological change. In this vein, last fall New Village published Asphalt to Ecosystems: Design Ideas for Schoolyard Transformation by Sharon Danks, a design guidebook that addresses the holistic realm of outdoor teaching and play environments. The book has also been called a “call-to-action” which is the kind thing inspired ecological thinking leads to.
If you attended school or have a child in school, you’re probably familiar with the picture on the left: a bleak plot of asphalt, intended as a playground for children. Danks has other ideas, and Asphalt to Ecosystems is a guidebook to converting barren wastelands into dynamic living ecosystems. As Danks writes, schools and playgrounds are an ideal place for students to learn about environmental renewal: “they are responsible for educating our society’s future leaders… students learn that they have an impact on their environment and have opportunities to heal it.” Beyond teaching children about the environment, green playgrounds also re-invigorate the idea of play. The opportunities for play and growth on that hard tarmac are limited to linear, often competitive games; on a green schoolyard, children have multi-surfaced, diverse areas for open-ended, cooperative play. Teachers have many more resources for teaching right in their own (school)yard, and who wouldn’t want a garden as a break room?
Further, schoolyards effect more than students and teachers: everyone lives near a school. Which school would you rather live near—the one with the yard in the picture on the left or the one on the right? Incredibly, both photos were taken at Commodore Sloat School in San Francisco: the green picture was taken only a year and a half after the transformation to a green schoolyard began. Choosing the green path involves embracing community stewardship as a neighborhood value. Danks explains that the traditional blacktop models rely on a few maintenance workers to trim and fertilize patches of grass and bushes, and to sweep the paved surfaces. The newer paradigm requires sharing responsibility among a network of people: “empower[ing] children, teachers, and families to take on a portion of the increased work load.” Again, in this example, green takes on a much larger and more important meaning as the school grows to encompass larger swathes of the community.
We’re so happy to be co-hosting the upcoming Engaging Our Grounds International Green Schoolyard Conference. The conference, September 16th to 18th, will fill in all the blanks that you need to get the green schoolyards movement going in your community. There is still time and space to register, and it’s really not to be missed. The conference includes presentations from the foremost international green schoolyard designers and researchers and tours of exemplary schoolyards in the Bay Area. So, register for the conference, buy the book, and collect your bonus freebies: check out Asphalt to Ecosystems on Facebook and New Village Press on Twitter!