October 10, 2017

This portable park unfolds to create a pop-up playground in under 5 minutes

The designers behind Kit of Parks on bringing the power of play to communities in need

Children play with the pop-up playground Kit of Parks at a recent event in Boston. Photo courtesy of Kit of Parks

“The color caught his eye and he came running!” A satisfied mom explained how her son discovered the shiny new play space. To the left and right, kids and parents were busy, testing playful configurations of the bright yellow blocks. A pair of girls constructed a slide, complete with steps and an landing pad; a dad and his daughter played with a giant Jenga; a brother and sister jockeyed over how a box should be used to build a giant robot figurine.

The blocks are all pieces of a new temporary playspace, Kit of Parks, a portable kit of parts that can be constructed into a park, or in that case that afternoon, a pop-up playground. The kit had found a home for the day in Boston during Franklin Park’s Kite and Bike Festival this Spring.

Inspired by pop-up parklets, we designed Kit of Parks to add a playful twist to temporary placemaking: it is packable, lightweight, and mobile. Kit of Parks can be hitched to the back of a bike and unpacked in any location in under five minutes. The self-contained set includes tables, stools, play-blocks, Jenga, and bean bag toss. The Kit injects an immediate dose of color, whimsy, and experimental fun wherever it is parked. While pop-up parks have cropped up across the country, Kit of Park’s mobility enables accessibility of play to a broader audience.

A winner of Kaboom!’s Play Everywhere Challenge, we partnered with the Boston Mayor’s Office of New Urban Mechanics, the Boston Parks and Recreation Department, and the Franklin Park Coalition to pilot test Kit of Parks within Franklin Park in Boston. Franklin Park is a 485-acre public space that serves multiple diverse neighborhoods, including communities with the lowest availability of park amenities in the city. Franklin Park is a popular destination for families but because of its large size, many locations within the park lack opportunities for play. Kit of Parks is stored within Franklin Park and frequently deployed to bring play opportunities to less activated locations in the park.

Kit of Parks co-founder Philip Dugdale shows how the pop-up park can be hitched to the back of a bike and transported anywhere. Photo courtesy of Kit of Parks

True to its unique form, Kit of Parks is an immediate conversation starter about the power of turning urban environments into platforms for public realm experimentation and play. Kit of Parks serves a unique dual role as a play amenity and engagement tool. Kit of Parks provides unexpected temporary play opportunities—encouraging freeform play, teamwork, and exercise—while facilitating a broader conversation with residents about the city’s planning and implementation of permanent play amenities and the opportunities available for turning underutilized urban environments into platforms for play. Through interactive engagement with Kit of Parks, the Boston Parks and Recreation Department is able to survey Boston’s youngest residents questions about where and what permanent play amenities are desired most in the city.

As the Kite and Bike Festival wrapped up that day, we enlisted the help of the youngest festival goers to pack up the Kit. “It won’t all fit!” a skeptical kid exclaimed as he joined in to assemble the life-size puzzle. As the group pushed the last piece into place his eyes lit up. “It worked!” He watched as we hopped on our bikes, with Kit of Parks in tow, and started to pedal away.

“Where are you going?” he asked.

“Good question,” we said. “Where should we park next?”

Nina Chase and Philip Dugdale

Co-founders of Kit of Parks

Nina Chase is a Pittsburgh-based landscape architect and co-founder of Kit of Parks. She works at the intersection of landscape architecture and urban design, positioning landscape architecture as a foundational building block for cities. Formerly an Associate at Sasaki in Boston, Nina teaches as adjunct faculty at Carnegie Mellon University’s School of Architecture and sits on the board of the Landscape Architecture Foundation.

Philip Dugdale is an Associate in Sasaki’s Urban Studio and co-founder of Kit of Parks. Having practiced in the U.K. and U.S., his works transcends a multitude of scales from large-scale urban masterplans to site specific, detailed design solutions. Philip strives to design landscapes that encourage people to perceive and explore their environments in new, unique ways, creating experiences that are rich, multifaceted and playful.