Forces at Play

Exploring the intuitive design of the upcoming BlueCross Healthy Place at David Carnes Park in Memphis

Nov. 28, 2018

Could the path to happiness start at your local park?

It sounds too good to be true, but research increasingly shows it’s a real possibility.

A recent study of well-being in 44 major cities across the U.S. found that park coverage was among the best predictors of residents’ health and happiness. The BlueCross BlueShield of Tennessee Health Foundation is investing in Memphis parks through its first BlueCross Healthy Place project, the revitalization of David Carnes Park in the city’s Whitehaven neighborhood.

“Concentrating our giving on BlueCross Healthy Places will allow us to have a bigger impact within our communities, reaching both urban and rural areas across the state,” said Scott Wilson, BlueCross director of community relations and health foundation. “We’re excited about the potential of these projects, and we are honored to partner with the residents of Whitehaven and the city of Memphis to launch this new focus.”

“The BlueCross Healthy Place program shares one of our top priorities: healthy, inviting public spaces for our citizens,” says Memphis Mayor Jim Strickland. “That’s why we’re so grateful for this partnership with the BlueCross BlueShield of Tennessee Health Foundation, and we’re looking forward to enhancing this park for neighbors here in Whitehaven.”

In order to execute their vision, the BlueCross BlueShield of Tennessee Health Foundation has hired play and recreation brand GameTime, a PlayCore company.

Rendering of the BlueCross Healthy Place in Whitehaven

“The goal with every aspect of the park is to create a place where people of all ages and abilities can play together, learn from each other and pursue a healthy lifestyle,” says GameTime’s Kent Callison. “We want to give people a place to come and have meaningful interactions. And we want everyone in Memphis to see this as a destination — a place where they can spend an entire day and never get bored.”

The 9-acre park should have no trouble delivering on that front. It’s as big as an amusement park, yet it’s free, which means all families can access it.

The park will also eventually house the largest fully inclusive playground in the state.

In order to ensure the revitalized park will meet the needs of community members, BlueCross held neighborhood planning events, including one with students from nearby Whitehaven Elementary School, that allowed residents to share their thoughts and ideas for the project. The most common request? A space that would be attractive and accessible to residents of all ages, abilities and walks of life.

Explore the elements of the revitalized park below to see how the BlueCross Healthy Place at David Carnes Park will take shape.

Note: The BlueCross Healthy Place at David Carnes Park is currently under construction, so images below are examples of how the equipment and park may look once completed.

BlueCross Healthy Place features

A place for everyone

The BlueCross Healthy Place at David Carnes Park will provide different play areas for children ages 2-5 and 5-12 to align with the distinct play styles and developmental needs of these groups, as well active features for teens and parents. The equipment will also provide options ranging from easy climbs for those just starting out to taller slides for risk takers, to serve people of every skill level.

The entire BlueCross Healthy Place at David Carnes Park will be accessible to people of all abilities. In addition to meeting the guidelines of the Americans with Disabilities Act, the equipment will be easy to use, compliant with safety standards, and comfortable, with the focus always remaining on healthy development and inclusion.

“Inclusive play isn’t just about physically accessing an environment, but also what happens once a person is there,” says Callison. “It embraces the fact that other people may have a reality different from your own, but everyone wants to belong. It’s a place where BlueCross is intentionally planning for the success of everyone, and we’re excited to use PlayCore’s research with Utah State University’s Center for Disabilities to design a space that promotes inclusion for all.”

That starts with physical accessibility, which includes:

  • Ramp access
  • Ground-level play elements
  • Front-reach capability so a person using a device like a wheelchair can position themselves directly in front of a play element to participate
  • Non-slip surfaces made of poured-in-place rubber, which cushions falls
  • Swings with high backs and sides for children who need additional trunk support

The space also includes equipment to promote sensory, social-emotional, cognitive, and communicative development through a variety of playful choices, including:

Expression swing

When a parent and a child’s eyes meet, intense and significant emotional bonding, known as attunement occurs. This equipment allows face-to-face swinging, which encourages multigenerational play. It’s particularly helpful for children who need sensory support and benefit from direct social interaction.

Musical instruments

Invented by a Grammy award-winning musician, these outdoor musical instruments are durable, sustainable and installed at kid-friendly heights. They’re perfectly tuned so every note sounds good, which removes the barrier that kids will be embarrassed if they don’t know how to play, and they invite children and families to participate by singing, dancing or watching.

Sensory Wave Climber

This climber has auditory, visual and tactile sensors and is a great way for children of different abilities to experience climbing while enhancing sensory development.

Splash pad

“Playgrounds are great, but any time you add water, they take on a whole new dimension,” says Callison. “Some of the sprayers are activated by the children; others are on timers; and then there’s the ‘Megasplash,’ which drops huge buckets of water every now and then. It’s fun to see kids waiting in anticipation and erupting into giggles.”

Additional playspace features include:

  • Net climbers
  • Overhead climbers
  • Monkey bars
  • Slides
  • A scalable tower, and
  • Acrylic panels in the roof of some structures that cast colorful shadows.

Fitness for all

BlueCross wants to ensure adults aren’t left out of the equation. Research shows that parents who are active set positive examples for their kids, so the BlueCross Healthy Place at David Carnes Park will include equipment that encourages teens and adults to stay longer.

“A child can only go to a playground if an adult or older sibling takes them, so we put fitness elements in direct sightlines of the playground so families can always see each other,” says Callison. “We also know that teens age out of typical playgrounds at 12 years old — once you get older, there’s not a lot for you to do. But with several schools and community centers close by, we need elements that the 13- to 18-year-old crowd will want to participate in.”

Challenge course

“The challenge course is basically a mix of the NFL combine and ‘American Ninja Warrior’,” says Callison.

It has different obstacles patterned after the TV show, including alternate steps, climbers and ramps. There’s also a scoring mechanism so participants can compete, and a free app so they can compare scores with others across North America.

“The challenge courses are amazing because you see families connecting with other families, and you see older kids interacting, which is important for an age group that often gets forgotten outside of organized sports,” says Callison. “Getting those kids to spend time outdoors interacting is priceless.”

40-yard dash

The dash also has a timing system for competition. There are currently fewer than 40 challenge courses in the U.S.

THRIVE fitness system

This multi-purpose workout equipment allows people aged 13+ to do lots of exercises in a compact space, including sit-ups, pull-ups, knee-lifts and work on the Swedish ladder, a wall-bar used for exercise and stretching. The structures are great for bootcamp classes, with 10 fitness stations in 450 square feet, allowing 10 people to work out at once.

Walking trail

Whitehaven residents love the park’s walking trail, so the plan is to enhance it with interactive elements placed along the way:

  • Fitness stations for adults (shoulder press, chin-up bars)
  • Play pockets for children (for example, a leaf- and tree-themed pocket that explains the role of trees in our environment with manufactured trees for children to climb)
  • Trailmarker signs that designate the distance of each path

Playing fields

The park will include an open field and a multipurpose field for soccer, baseball or half-length football games. It will be outfitted with the same low-maintenance synthetic turf used by NCAA football programs.

Public restroom

An important request from residents, restrooms will allow people to stay longer and change clothes to make the most of the park.


The park already has a significant amount of natural shade, and BlueCross plans to preserve as much of it as possible, only removing trees that are diseased or unsafe.

“When you create a natural playspace, studies show kids and adults are more comfortable and enjoy the space more, so we’ll preserve as much as possible,” says Callison.


The brand new shelter will be a place to host parties and gatherings. There will also be a historical marker honoring David Carnes, telling his story and why he’s so important to Memphis and the community of Whitehaven.

“At the end of the day, we want to create a beautiful place with lots of ways for parents and children to interact with one another,” says Callison. “It really is a remarkable thing that BlueCross is doing this for the community.”