Why Modern Playgrounds Suck – The Death of Awesome Play Equipment

Ah, playgrounds. As a 90s kid, I have fond memories of the boulder-sized jungle gyms and 20-foot tall slides that dominated parks when I was a child. Playgrounds today just don’t stack up. With their plastic structures and rubber flooring, modern playgrounds are boring at best and dangerously dull at worst.

Whatever happened to the rickety death traps many of us grew up with? You remember the ones – towering monkey bar pyramids, metal merry-go-rounds that flung you off if you didn’t hang on for dear life, seesaws and teeter-totters that catapulted kids skyward. And who could forget the zip lines, balance beams, and rope climbing walls that challenged our strength and coordination? Those playgrounds built character and courage! Kids nowadays will never experience the adrenaline rush of a near-vertical slide or the joy of crashing into the ground from the monkey bars.

old dangerous playground

Beyond public parks, kids of the 80s and 90s were also treated to epic playgrounds at McDonald’s restaurants. The old McDonald’s playplaces were multi-level structures with tunnels, slides, ball pits, and more. Spending time in those elaborate play areas was often the highlight of a trip to Mickey D’s. Sadly, today’s McDonald’s has done away with the classic indoor playgrounds, replacing them with smaller sets that just aren’t the same.

Sure, some “experts” claim that deathtrap playgrounds resulted in too many injuries and lawsuits. But where’s the evidence? I turned out fine, and so did my friends! A few scrapes and broken bones never killed anyone. Modern playgrounds are obsessed with rubberizing the world into blandness. We’ve become so overprotective as a society that we’d rather kids be bored than experience real adventure and acceptable levels of danger.

I say bring back the towering slides of death! Let’s fasten some seesaws and merry-go-rounds back into the parks. Kids yearn for excitement – they want thrills that push their boundaries. As parents and community members, we should campaign for more classic playground equipment and designs. Sign the petitions, call your city councilperson, and donate to organizations advocating for old-school playgrounds. With enough public pressure, we can bring back the playgrounds of the past and give today’s screen-addicted youth a taste of real-world exhilaration again!

old dangerous play area

Beyond the equipment itself, the layout and terrain of playgrounds have also changed dramatically in recent decades. Older playgrounds sprawled over acres of land, with equipment spread out to encourage exploration. There were hills and ditches to traverse and natural materials like sand, dirt, logs, and boulders to interact with. Newer playgrounds are smaller, flatter, and rely heavily on uniform rubber flooring. Bring back the sprawling playgrounds of old and let kids engage with the varied textures and challenges that nature provides!

Safety guidelines have also eliminated many great vintage playground components out of an overabundance of caution. For example, merry-go-rounds, seesaws, monkey bars, and tall slides have mostly disappeared. But are replacements like plastic climbing walls and short slides really safer, or do they just reduce liability and lawsuits? Kids are less likely to get injured from greater heights and speeds if they start encountering those elements regularly from a young age. We shouldn’t sacrifice thrills for the illusion of safety.

boring modern playground
A boring modern playground.

Additionally, the so-called “experts” who design modern playgrounds seem to misunderstand what children want. Kids don’t need pre-fabricated plastic forts – they’d rather build dens and forts themselves with sticks, branches, and other loose parts. Children prefer to create their own fun rather than be limited by structured play equipment. Unregimented outdoor play encourages imagination and socialization. Architects of old understood this and created playgrounds that were thrilling while also providing flexibility.

In summary, today’s playgrounds are failing kids by being too prescriptive, boring, safe, and standardized. As parents and community members, we should advocate for the return of vintage playground design: sand, dirt, and natural terrain, equipment that provides heights and speeds, and open spaces that allow for freeform play. If properly inspected for hazards, these playgrounds inspire adventure while building self-confidence. It’s time to bring back the magic of childhood play before society rubberized all the joy out of it. Who’s ready to take a stand with me?




Photo of author


Chad is the co-founder of Unfinished Man, a leading men's lifestyle site. He provides straightforward advice on fashion, tech, and relationships based on his own experiences and product tests. Chad's relaxed flair makes him the site's accessible expert for savvy young professionals seeking trustworthy recommendations on living well.

30 comments on “Why Modern Playgrounds Suck – The Death of Awesome Play Equipment”

    • Thanks a lot, and hell, I know what you mean. The parks I played in as a kid were better than what we have now, but I still often went to the woods to get my climbing fix. There’s just no element of danger to parks these days, and I see that as a real negative to a child’s development.

  1. When I grew up, we had a slide that was ridiculously high and dangerous and yeah sometimes we fell off, but we picked ourselves up and went to some other play equipment after we finished crying.
    We had a see saw that could swing so high that you had to hold on to the handles for dear life otherwise you’d end up flying halfway across the park.
    And an old tractor that had been cemented in place? Brilliant. That was when I was a kid. Now, 20 years later, they’ve replaced everything with a small swingset, a safe jungle gym, and benches. and they’re all on top of bark. we didn’t have no stinkin’ bark to land on.
    thanks for your article.

    • Thanks for the reply, I’m glad I’m not the only one who feels this way. Walking past playground these days is depressing. As you mentioned, we all scraped our knees up and got the occasional cut, but I think that builds character, and toughens children up.

    • My elementary school had “dangerous” equipment, and I don’t think I ever even witnessed a kid get hurt. The people that are taking away this good equipment seem to be confusing thrilling with dangerous.

      In regards to the bark, I don’t see a problem with that. Asphalt playgrounds always scared the crap out of me when I was a kid. Pea rock, bark, sand, and grass are all good substitutes in my opinion.

      • I experienced the same sort of thing. At most I saw fellow students get scraped hands and knees… maybe a few bruises. Really, who cares? These are things that heal quickly, and are well worth the fun the child had acquiring them.

        As for the bark mulch, I mostly dislike it because it gets into ones shoes, and is rather itchy.

  2. Here in argentina, in the “park” that i grew up, we had a barrel with chains that simulated a bull, like this one: https://www.flickr.com/photos/ibarak/3198274655/

    Also had some hammocks like this… https://www.welcomeargentina.com/cutralco-huincul/imagenes/juegos-plaza-772.html
    I remember climbing at top of this games and falling in my back, it took my air out of my lungs… as soon i recovered i climbed up again…

    I think that kids should get hurt, get sick, recover and face the world again…
    That way they will have antibodies, and will know how to handle pain 😛

    • This… is absolutely amazing. The reason there were 6 fatalities is because those people were simply too weak to survive the amazingness of “The Loop”.

  3. Great article, every word of it is true, I’m from rural Australia and comparing my childhood to those of the city peoples, it makes me sad. yet lately it doesn’t matter were you go, kids are going soft all over the place. There has to be some form of excitement in a kids growth somewhere, the Calvin & Hobbes comics are a prime example
    Loved your article, might wake this world up.

    • Thanks a lot, I appreciate it. I’m not particularly fond of children, but if I ever have one of my own, I have every intention of encouraging that child to partake in a bit of adventure, be it climbing a tree, building a fort, or jumping off the swings. I think it’s important for a child to toughen up a bit through play. It’s also worthwhile in terms of building a strong body and mind. What kid is going to get fit climbing a 3 foot high plastic “fun castle”?

  4. Chad, I agree with you totally…kids need to toughen up, parents need to stop being such pansies and let their kids learn how to live (or not)! We had a great merry-go-round like the one you pictured at my school when I was a kid and I remember ‘missing it’ a few times and eating dirt but I always went back for more!
    When we were in New Zealand, there were zip-lines on the playgrounds, ropes courses, human sized hamster wheels, and trampolines with no lame “safety netting” around them…they were even parked on cement pads…no soft cushy foam pits underneath those babies! We even found one with a six sided, hexagon shaped swingset where if you kicked hard enough you could tangle legs with your neighbor on the swing next to or across from you. Needless to say, we did an unofficial “playground tour” of sorts while we were there and got to be 30 year old kids every time we found another one (and we didn’t even have to be drunk!).
    We need to take a lesson from the kiwis and quit building this plastic disgraces that we are trying to pass off as “playgrounds” and get back to the real thing!!!

  5. Sociologically and biologically I think the rot set in for dangerous fun when people started having fewer children. With big families, parents didn’t have the time or incentive to wrap each one of them in bubblewrap. If you lost one of 10, it was proportionally much less of an issue than loosing one of two. I suspect it has taken us a couple of generations to revalue children – my own parents came from big families and never accompanied us to those “dangerous” playgrounds. We just went and damaged ourselves unsupervised. I was a bit more of a helicopter parent with my own two but still encouraged them to climb and fall and I think I actually deliberately electrocuted each of them at least once. Each of them spent at least a couple of day total in the emergency department of the local hospital. I suspect the current generation of 10 year olds couldn’t even climb a fence or an apple tree if their life depended on it.

  6. If you’re looking for a nice playground, you should try van vieng in RDP Laos.
    A river, giant slides in the middle of the jungle, buckets of booze, drugs,… wha’ts not to like ?
    Sure a few backpackers dies every-years, but that’s just natural selection pressure.

  7. When I grew up, we had a slide that was ridiculously high and dangerous and yeah sometimes

    We also took wax paper and made them rediculously fast, that was so fun. Yeah new playgrounds suck – you are totally right Chad – new playgrounds are designed for toddlers.

    • Awesome, that sounds like a great time. I never used wax to make the slides faster, but we had some great slides here anyway. I mean, before they were all torn down in favor of wussy slides.

  8. Not to mention the law of natural selection….those that didn’t survive the fall from the jungle gym were weeded out of society. Now all children are protected so they grow up whether they are too dumb for society or smart and useful.

  9. Yes! Thank you!! Kids are treated like faberge eggs these days. Can’t wait to see them run to mommy when their PB&J is soggy. You’re getting food stfu and eat it. “My teacher is mean”…”ya well I would be too if I had to babysit 30 of you for 8+ hours”

    • Yes, exactly. I think over coddling of children is actually insulting to the child, not to mention detrimental to their development. It doesn’t mean being an asshole to then, it means allowing them to make mistakes sometimes and yes, perhaps even hurt themselves in a non-fatal, not permanent way. I think children are more durable than people give them credit for.

  10. IKR? I’m 17 and I WOULD DIE if could try a merry-go-round, or an old fashioned teeter totter, the ones that were huge and could fling you to the other side of the park. Anyone who decided that those crappy tot-lots (toddler lots) were a good idea for kids, they can just go die. Who wants to play on a jungle gym that’s 2 feet tall? On a slide that’s 5 feet tall? On a teeter totter that rises 6 inches off the ground? I hate how older kids 12+ don’t have anything to play on anymore, and we wonder why our kids are so fat! We should all make a petition to rebuild playgrounds across the world so that our kids have motivation to play, and so older kids and even young adults can have fun!

  11. A modern playground built after my childhood has one big blue climbing thingy which didn’t exist in my town in the 90s as the playgrounds used to be smaller with mainly metal slides no plastic, a roundabout. The other thing in the bigger playground has a small roundabout with 2 seats, a zip line, trampolines with no safety things, and finally a skatepark.


Leave a Comment