7. Destination Playgrounds

There is enough to see and do in this recently constructed playground to attract tourists as well as local users.

Playgrounds are urban public spaces designed for children and their minders and sometimes they are urban public spaces adapted ad hoc by children lacking places created especially for children. Basketball courts, softball fields and comparable facilities are outside the objectives of this chapter. Also excluded are parks, however attractive, that lure few users except for the occasional caregiver who with a pram or stroller has been told to make sure the infant gets “fresh air”.

Destination playgrounds are among the civilizing features associated with the demanding preferences of the swelling populations in cities and old suburbs. Parents raised to assume that all children deserved their individual bit of grass, will move out when the first child grows restless unless there are attractive recreational options. The half-acre of swings and climbing equipment in the midst of Philadelphia’s Society Hill neighborhood is almost ideal. Open on one side to a quiet street, it is otherwise surrounded by homes from which a dependable coterie of kids converges daily with caretakers. Virtually the entire neighborhood is less than a ten-minute walk from the site. Not dependent on the city for maintenance, the sponsoring non-profit makes changes as time proves their need. If kids fall from some device, the blow is softened by a soft surface. That the play area exists is the result of remarkably sensitive redevelopment planning decades ago. That it remains as useful and used today can be traced in part to the fact that this treasured facility has encouraged young families to remain in the city.

A mile or so from there, a much larger playground has been created on an unlikely site. One of the original squares planned to serve Philadelphia’s colonial population; Franklin Square’s prospects were victims of the motorcar. The Benjamin Franklin Bridge, constructed in the late 1920s, managed to eliminate the surrounding uses including residents. For decades it remained simply a grassed interval, rather n the way of cars, trucks and buses, but of little use to anyone. A few older Chinese would walk there for early morning exercises but if there were others who spent times there it was as its role as a sanctuary for homeless. Creation of the National Constitution Center nearby gave rise to a proposal to convert Franklin Square to a destination playground.

This place became a remarkable attraction for kids, including the sometimes-bored ones in tow among Independence Mall’s attractions, but also local people’s offspring. There are a lot of experience opportunities within its roughly four acres:

  1. A carousel whose music is heard throughout the Square;
  2. Lots of food
  3. A giant fountain
  4. A miniature golf course
  5. Sun and shade
  6. Ample places to sit and watch the busy crowds

The playground is well attended despite the few residents who live within a ten-minute walk and the paucity of parking. This urban public space is a tribute, not to its location, but to the collection of things to do and see perfectly focused on young children.

Children will play in fountains with water and without water. Skateboarders love sloping paved surfaces and will seek out these unofficial play facilities. On the other hand, there are some extremely attractive playgrounds in places without the close at hand supply of children to use them. They may attract graffiti, but they aren’t in locations where they can be successful.

Most children in dense urban places are happiest with play spaces closest  to home. As Jane Jacobs observed, children like streets as well as sidewalks. They are highly visible places that attract other children and their activities can be monitored without the time costs to minders required in walking trips to destination playgrounds. Many residential blocks in cities produce very little auto traffic and are safe in that regard. One neighborhood with a half dozen small children created a portable enclosure to contain their active offspring in the small street in late afternoon. The sound of these kids was a delightful element at close of day. The equipment was stacked away when play time was over.

The steady flow of households settling in dense urban places is producing a bumper crop of children whose numbers grow as fewer parents choose to relocate to places with grassy yards. These are among the amenities treasured by families that help explain why urban populations are growing; mainly because more are remaining.

This small playground is surrounded by townhouses and was part of an earlier redevelopment program.

Close at hand play spaces tend to have the greatest appeal.

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