This post originally appeared on Movement Unleashed in July 2013. However, as Movement Unleashed matures, I’ll be moving some posts I wrote for that site over to this blog which is a better fit for their tone or subject.
With a name that sounds like it’s out of Game of Thrones, I had to check out the Skoglund Parkour Park. On a rainy day in July I traveled out to Palmerston North to have a play.
The Palmerston North City Council installed the park in 2012 as part of the redevelopment of the Skoglund Park area to include opportunities for activities appealing to youth. The equipment is designed by Finnish company Lappset.
The park is sturdy and in an easily accessible and family friendly area. There are other physical activity facilities nearby such as sports fields, a swimming pool, and a small climbing wall. At first glance, the park looks exactly like another children’s playground. But off to one corner of the park is a sign that details common parkour moves the park can be used for. There are written and visual instructions, as well as QR links to videos demonstrations. While I was walking around taking pictures, a kid come into the park and alternated between looking at the sign and moving to the obstacles to try the suggested movements – the sign worked perfectly.
Lappset is very proud of pointing out that their designs had input from parkour experts at the Finnish Parkour Academy and other groups in Europe. Despite this claim, everything in the park appears as if designed by someone with no first-hand familiarity with parkour – for example most things are too small or too close together to allow for proper movement; various obstacles are positioned at diagonal angles with each other, which is odd considering parkour is usually practiced on right-angles commonly found in urban architecture; and, the use of use of circles everywhere is an odd choice. I can see how they are used to easily hold the bars together, but the inclusions of three big orbs sticking out of the ground is mystifying, as they seem to be placed at with no thought of how they interact with forming jumps to nearby obstacles, and they’re too small to serve as gymnastic mushrooms for circles. Maybe they’re parkour seats for when you need to rest?
It seems like a designer merely researched parkour videos online and then thought up something that would look cool when built. Unfortunately, the use of it for actual parkour movements is very limited.
In reality, I believe the park is designed for children. Below is my 5 year old son next to the vault rail. Now, most obstacles found in an urban environment for which the vault movements are used, such as handrails and low walls, are around the waist height of a normal adult – compare this to the photo below. Obviously this park’s vault rail is built for the height of a child. Adults or experienced parkour practitioners will find little challenge here.
Besides children, the park would actually be prefect for beginners to parkour. The soft mats covering the ground remove some of the risk of falling. Although, for more experienced practitioners, they do make takeoffs more difficult as the ground compresses and absorbs some of the jumping force. The mats are also covered in yellow shapes spread throughout the space that make for perfect targets for beginners. Jumping to or from something at ground level removes the danger of jumping to a ledge, and it also removes much of the fear. There are also rails very close to the ground, something that is difficult to find in the street, which make for a great way to learn precisions and balance without the risk of a higher drop. And, the instructional sign is great as it offers guidance for common movements in an easily understood way.
But who was this parkour park built for?
The Palmerston North City Council leisure officer Nicki Hanna is paraphrased in the Manawatu Standard as saying “it was a youth park aimed at the 13+ age-group and was never designed to be a proper parkour park. ..the council did not expect the sport’s elite to get much benefit out of it, she said.” Did I read that right? Why build a parkour park when it’s not meant to be used for parkour? Is that a good use of tax payer money? Why not build a normal playground? In future, it may be better to leave parkour facilities for those organisations and companies that are familiar with parkour.
8/10 for children, or beginners to parkour
2/10 for actual parkour use