Escape to an urban sandbox

In the middle of downtown Detroit–far from the nearest body of water–there is a hugely popular beach. It brings office workers, children, tourists and students together in an optimistic, informal setting that encourages social interaction. The sand invites creative play and evokes a mini-vacation, if only for an hour’s escape.

We are starting to see city “sandboxes” for all ages nestled in sight of tall buildings around the globe. Pictured below are beach-like settings in Detroit (photos 1 & 2, Campus Martius) Brooklyn (photos 3 & 4, at Brooklyn Bridge Park) and Toronto (photo #4. Pop-up Cardboard Beach, 5. Sugar Beach, 6. HtO Beach and 8. Pop-up for the Luminato  Festival).

urban beach_1B

These swimless beaches provide places to get away from the hard edges of the city. Unlike the traditional rigid park bench arrangement, seating can be combined to suit groups or offer solitude. Either way, city sandboxes feed the psyche.

The first time I became aware of the swimless urban beach and sandbox was the Paris Plages installations that began in 2008, one of which is pictured below. Read this description of why it works by Project for Public Spaces.


“Paris Plages 2013 DSC 0822w” by Peter Haas /. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons

UPDATE: Playground CS pop-up beach opens for 6 weeks near Centraal Station in Amsterdam today!

Amster Beach

Amsterdam beach_comp1

At the Ryerson Student Learning Centre, “The Beach” is a cheerful indoor place to study, talk and meet in small groups. During Toronto’s long winters it works as a metaphor, even without sand or water.

beach_Ryerson SLC (5280)

– Sharon VanderKaay

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