ST. PAUL, Minn. — Jill Moore’s wheelchair doesn’t prevent her from exploring parks, playgrounds and other public spaces. In fact, as an inclusive play specialist for Minnesota-based playground designer Landscape Structures, she’s developed an expertise in noodling through landscapes that able-bodied people sometimes take for granted, searching for access opportunities and impediments designers might have overlooked, or as she puts it, “connecting the lived experience with the design.”

On a recent Friday, Moore was scheduled to accompany a deaf woman, a blind man, a man with autism and a powerchair user who is nonverbal on an “audit” of sorts through downtown Minneapolis, focusing on Nicollet Mall, Peavey Plaza and the Walker Sculpture Garden. Their goal was to make sure that disability access means more than just a ramp wide enough to carry Moore’s wheels.

“Conventional inclusive playgrounds for a long time just had a big ramp structure,” said Moore, who was scheduled to lead or take part in multiple workshops on inclusive design as part of the American Society of Landscape Architects conference in late October at the Minneapolis Convention Center.

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“If you have a child with ADHD, they’re still figuring out how their brains connect with their bodies. How do I organize my thoughts? It’s a motor-coordination disability,” said Moore, who has a background in industrial design. “Shoreview Commons has these different activities, such as a variety of different climbing structures at different challenge levels, which is something that these kiddos need more practice with, and opportunities for kids to develop those skills.”

Based in Delano, Minn., Landscape Structures has designed, engineered and manufactured some of the newest and most celebrated playgrounds in the Twin Cities, from the $3.8 million, 23,500-square-foot Shoreview Commons destination playground to the smaller Midway Peace Park on Griggs Street in St. Paul, which was installed on a slope with slides and climbing structures following the contours of the hillside.

Then there’s the new Dunning Park playground on Marshall Avenue in St. Paul, which was assembled last month with both city staff and volunteer power over the course of a recent three-day community build.

Next up for Landscape Structures is a new inclusive playground that will sit immediately to the east of Allianz Field, the professional soccer stadium near Snelling and University avenues in St. Paul’s Midway.

The goal is to fit 25 structures and activities, including multiple shade canopies, within a 0.35-acre space partially shaded by the stadium itself. The designers are big on “parallel play,” such as a low-intensity, medium-intensity and higher-intensity climbing area that kids at each level can enjoy side by side.

“Part of our overall philosophy in general when it comes to design is to create the greatest amount of variety and challenge given the parameters of every project — the greatest amount of play activities for the greatest amount of users in that space,” said Scott Roschi, Landscape Structures’ creative director.

Annually, Landscape Structures designs some 2,000 to 3,000 parks projects across the country, and they’re increasingly being called upon to fill in non-traditional spaces — such as downtowns — that already draw pedestrians and could benefit from more of them.

One of the most ambitious undertakings for Landscape Structures is the new “Motion Junction” playground in the Canandaigua community of upstate New York, which opened a year ago. The sweeping destination playground features “the best of the best equipment all in one space,” said Roschi, and was designed in coordination with the University of Buffalo’s School of Architecture and Planning IDEA Center for Inclusive Design and Environmental Access.

“Because of COVID, communities continue to realize how important their public spaces and parks were,” said Roschi, recalling how important parks and public spaces were during the pandemic lockdowns.

“In our case, we’re helping to bring play to downtowns, which in many cases wasn’t something that was done,” he said. “A lot of communities are starting to make transitions from automotive-focused to pedestrian-focused. They’re thinking of whole new ways to move through these public spaces, and one of the ways we can do that is to also introduce play.”

If investing in safe outdoor spaces for the able-bodied became a heightened priority for cities after the pandemic lockdowns, the same goal takes on a whole new dimension for people with disabilities.

“During COVID, people realized we need access,” Moore said.

© 2023 Pioneer Press
Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC

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