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Austin Looks to Ditch Pastel Playscapes in Favor of a More Natural Look

The equipment on Austin’s playgrounds is slowly, but surely, being replaced, and the new equipment looks a little different.

Marty Stump with the city’s Parks and Recreation Department says the animal life at Dove Springs District Park looks a little different than one might expect.

“We needed to make sure there was an armadillo and a tarantula and a gecko, but we waved off on the snake,” which Stump says might’ve been a little too realistic for kids bounding around the parks.

To be clear, all of these animals are dead – or fake, rather. They’re etched into slabs of concrete that have been sculpted to look like a tree. The whole thing looks like a play area growing out of a live oak – plastic slides shooting out the trunk of the tree and a bridge hanging between its branches. It’s all part of a long-term project from the city to throw out that bright play equipment.

“You know in the past 15 to 20 years you see a lot of primary colors and pastel colors,” Stump says. The city’s initiative is looking to replace those with objects that look more natural, with more greens, browns and tans that will blend into parks’ landscapes.

The trend, Stump says, is national and, although nature-based play equipment tends to be more expensive than the bright-colored stuff, the City of Austin’s hoping to makeover five playgrounds in the near future – for several reasons. In the age of iPhone and computer play, kids can feel like they’re actually playing in nature. It encourages some kids to start exploring.

“Kids will ultimately make their own play,” he says, watching a young park-goer play on a log. “In the case here, sitting on a log, digging in the bark mulch and the gravel there, looks like he’s clearing some material out of his shoe.”

These playgrounds also instill an appreciation for the environment in kids, says Stump which, he says, the kids seem to like it okay.

Audrey McGlinchy is KUT's housing reporter. She focuses on affordable housing solutions, renters’ rights and the battles over zoning. Got a tip? Email her at Follow her on Twitter @AKMcGlinchy.
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