Designing a Magical Bridge playground is significantly different than building a traditional one, said Palo Alto Landscape Architect Peter Jensen, who is planning several all-abilities playgrounds along the Peninsula and internationally, including in Palo Alto's Rinconada Park, Sunnyvale, Morgan Hill, Mountain View, Santa Clara and Singapore. He also was involved in designing the original Magical Bridge in Palo Alto as well as the playground currently under construction in Redwood City.
Universal playgrounds are more expensive to build because they take up more space, he said. Most playgrounds are about one-quarter the size of a Magical Bridge, which is one reason the cost to build an all-abilities playground is so much higher. Palo Alto's play space was more than $4 million; Redwood City's will top out at $8 million.
"One of the main differences is that Magical Bridge equipment comes from various vendors," he said. There's no one-size fits-all with Magical Bridge.
One major feature, the slide mound, often requires changing the land's topography to create a hill. The gentle slope holding the slides accommodates wheelchairs and makes it easier to climb. It also has assistive handrails, he said.
"Each space has its own ID and aesthetic," he said.
The spaces incorporate existing trees and topography, which can sometimes be challenging. In Redwood City, the design had to accommodate a creek.
The play structures are arranged in a series of interconnected zones or "destination hubs," rather than a large structure crowded with multiple types of equipment — another reason the playground requires more space. These zones, which include a swing-and-sway section, spinning zone, slide mound, playhouse and stage, music zone and other areas, provide room for wheelchair movement and predictability for people with autism and visual impairments. Users can easily identify their location or where they want to go.
By law, a tot zone also must be incorporated into every playground. The Redwood City playground's tot zone is also for people of all needs.
"They are like little, tiny Magical Bridges," he said.
Jensen said he's found designing these playgrounds to be an exciting — and an unexpected — part of his career.
"Collaborative play between kids is fascinating. I never imagined I would be designing these playgrounds," he said.
This article is part of a larger story on the Magical Bridge Playground, which can be found here.
Olenka Villarreal and Jill Asher join Weekly journalists Sue Dremann and Linda Taaffe for a lively discussion about the Magical Bridge on an episode of "Behind the Headlines," now available on our YouTube channel and on our podcast page.