As tactical urbanism and the pop up phenomenon take the urban landscape by storm, people are not only jumping onboard the proverbial food truck but asking an important question – what on earth is a pop up playground? It’s temporary. It’s limited only by imagination. It’s relatively simple.

All you need is:

  • Loose parts (generally recycled items such as cardboard boxes, rope, pvc pipe, wooden pallets)
  • Energetic and imaginative participants (children of all ages)
  • Simple tools (duct tape, hammers, glue)
  • Adult supervision (it’s ok, you can play too)

And then the magic unfolds. Your empty site becomes enlivened with robots, helicopters, low rider cars, dream houses, tunnels, mazes and climbing structures of all kinds. Children create, learn and play through discovery, exploration and self-guided action. In this kind of open-ended environment, participants use their imagination to build meaningful relationships with each other and their surroundings. Child-directed play benefits cognitive, social, emotional and physical development, contributing to academic success, confidence and overall well-being.

The pop up playground:

  • Builds community through cooperation and communication across schools, neighborhoods, organizations and private enterprises
  • Provides equal opportunity for all abilities by encouraging collaboration and side by side play
  • Fosters creativity 
  • Empowers adults and children alike to be active participants in the shape of our built environments

On October 4th, 2015, Albuquerque’s first ever pop up playground was imagined, built and deconstructed at the ACE Leadership High School in the Sawmill District. A dedicated committee of New Mexico Chapter of the American Society of Landscape Architects (NMASLA) board members and ACE Leadership High School staff worked together for over a year to plan this momentous event. Over 75 children, 55 adults, 29 ACE high school students, 20 ACE faculty and staff, 8 NMASLA members and 7 UNM Student ASLA members participated in the event (over 190 participants total!).

The entire event essentially cost nothing – everything was provided through sponsorship and valuable volunteer hours. $800 in sponsorship was given by Envall Associates, School Equipment Inc. and private contributions. This sponsorship provided custom designed t-shirts (designed by ACE students), snacks, medical supplies and duct tape. Other materials were provided by ACE, donated or recycled.

Recycled cardboard boxes, wooden pallets, wire spools, paper tubes and pvc piping melded with children’s imaginations and became wings, transformers, trucks, airplanes, dinosaurs and climbing structures. New friendships were made and new possibilities realized. Imagine what you could do.

If you’d like to organize a pop up playground for your community, contact Amy Bell at [email protected].