From a lovely piece, "Swingset at Lincoln Park," Maggie Corrigan produced in the writing class, Writing the City, I taught this fall at Hugo House:
On sunny days, [my daughters and I would] run across a paved walkway to march along a driftwood beach on Puget Sound. During each venture through the expansive park grounds, we’d always stop at the swingset just beyond the baseball field.
The structure had dark silver posts that met at a sharp angle 12 feet up in the air. It was wide enough to hold three regular swings at slightly different heights. Each black seat, suspended in a U shape, was made of a 4 inch wide belt coated in polyethylene. The sling-style would conform to any body width. Children as young as three as well as teens and adults could fit on these swings. Next to them were two baby swings that sat even to each other but much higher off the ground.
...There’s a point in the long arc of the pendulum where centripetal force is overcome by gravity. On a swing, it’s the maximum height off the ground, often felt when your legs are below with feet pointing to the ground. It’s a tiny moment when you need your arms to hold you on the seat. There’s a stillness of suspension, and then falling as you reverse direction. This force hasn’t changed, but perhaps our awareness of it has, or maybe mom, or dad or the nanny stopped reminding the children to “hold on!” I’m not sure exactly when it happened, but park planners reconsidered how children should play, and our tall, beloved swingset in Lincoln Park was replaced.
The modern Seattle park swingset is now a very safe structure designed exclusively for children. It’s often less than 8 feet tall, and placed over pits of spongy bark, or on thick black rubber matting in a designated play area. The seats are molded plastic chairs shaped for small bodies, and while the sling-type seats remain, the chains are much shorter creating quick reversals for fast and frantic action. Even though a city may design for safety, the collective memory and image of a swing remains as an uncomplicated toy for playing outside.
The swings in my childhood were wonderful because they were so dangerous. The long iron chains, the strip of industrial rubber, the whole of the earth, the whole of the sky, the moment of release, the moment of flying, the crashing on the grass. Safety has its limits. Danger has its rewards.