Thursday, December 10, 2009

Newish arrival in Fairmount: Eastern State Playpen

Playground: Eastern State Playpen
Location: NW corner of Eastern State Penitentiary, corner of 22nd and Brown (gate on Brown, but only a low wall around the site)
Date visited: 12/10/09

Equipment: One zone, with one sprawling playset composed of a single (nice, plastic) slide, several unusual types of ladders, a large fake rock climbing portion (that can be reached from the slide platform, but also scaled vertically at various degrees of difficulty), and a good-sized "jungle gym" in the style of a tangly rope spiderweb (similar in feel to the much larger one at Smith Playhouse). Also a modern teeter-totter analogue (may need to be standing to use it), a sit-and-spin toy, and some play table space under the playset. A freestanding picnic umbrella must offer some shade to infants accompanying their siblings in warm weather. No swings!
material: modern resin & metal, plus rocks and ropes; scale: small
Ages: Playground posted as ages 2-12, which isn't far off
Surface: rubbery composite
Shade(0-3): 1* (see above)
Water: Y
Other: extensive grassy strip along the northern edge of the penitentiary.
Access: Officially posted as dawn to dusk

Impressions: Clearly a recent addition to the neighborhood, this playground does magic in a small space. Obviously there aren't a large number of pieces, but the equipment that there is does a remarkable job of presenting fun and creative options for many ages -- it actually comes close to covering the range that it aimed for, where most playgrounds end up challenging only the youngest visitors. Our 21-month-old loved the slide, was intrigued by the climbing rocks (but for the striking cold on the day of our visit, she would have attempted them, so parents of risk-takers should be prepared), and watched the bigger kids on the rope tangle for a while; we'll definitely visit again when her reach is a bit longer. The ropes and rocks mean that there are challenges even for haughty middleschoolers, while the easier steps to the slide, narrow tunnel through the rocks, and low play area (as well as the peripheral gizmos) offer plenty to the younger set, so this spot seems like a boon to families with a range of ages. The lack of swings is a bit of a bummer (and seems odd, given that there's plenty of real estate to the east that could have accommodated a set), but the presence of a drinking fountain is a pleasant rarity. A playground sign notes that the site gets lots of after-school traffic, so parents of smaller kids may want to avoid those times. Otherwise, a fun change of pace; great for combining with a tourist trip to the historic Penitentiary or with lunch at Jack's Fireouse!
Overall rating: 8+

Update 4/10: see first comment below: the "shade umbrella" is a water feature! spiff.
Update 7/11: it's actually a mister, that triggers when you push a button. great for a hot day, and no suits required!

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

This neighborhood deserves more: Tip Top playground

Playground: Tip Top
Location: Front & Allen -- entrances on E & W sides
Date visited: 11/28/09

Equipment: Two playsets:
  • Smaller has a single platform with several ladders and one (boring) metal slide
  • Larger has a couple platforms, quite high (too high to lift a kid up to!) with lots of climbing options, a fireman's pole, and a long metal slide.
There is also a set of swings nearby, with two each strap and bucket swings.
material: modern resin + metal, worn and graffittied; scale: large space, with play equipment at one end
Ages: 2-8
Surface: rubbery around equipment; blacktop elsewhere
Shade(0-3): 0
Water: N
Other: Lots of additional blacktop space, one portion enclosed in high fence.
Access: Unmarked -- dawn to dusk?

Impressions: While the actual play equipment here was basically fine for a range of ages (if a bit weathered), the combination of a large expanse of unstructured blacktop and the proximity to the highway and SEPTA train bridges make this feel like the middle of nowhere. In fact, there are a number of decent townhouses nearby (on the W & N sides), and the snazzy new Piazza development (*) is about a block away, so somebody should be creating pressure for better development of this lot. At the very least, some of the random blacktop could be made into basketball courts; the addition of some grassy area and a few picnic tables could really turn it into a community presence. Heck, they could even capitalize on the spectacle of the passing commuter trains by throwing in some kind of train-themed climbing or riding equipment (promotional funds, anyone?), just to give it some kind of unique personality. As it is, visitors sort of have to bring their own fun.
Overall rating: 6+

Nice for the smaller set: Northern Liberties Rec. Center

Playground: Northern Liberties Rec. Center
Location: On 3rd, just N. of Fairmount (W. side)
Date visited: 11/28/09

Equipment: One playset (modern resin & metal), including a straight metal slide, curved plastic slide, solid bridge, and several sorts of stairs and ladders. Two bucket swings nearby.
Ages: 1-5ish
Surface: rubbery under equipment, blacktop elsewhere
Shade(0-3): 1
Water: Y
Other: basketball court (torn nets, but end of season); pool on other side of fence (entered through rec. center).
Access: Nothing posted; playground was open when rec. center was closed. Basketball courts had lights on poles, one of which was aimed back toward the playground, so could be open later than usual "dawn to dusk" default...

Impressions: Cute little playground for tots and smaller kids, sandwiched beween the Northern Liberties Rec. Center (closed at our visit), the new Community Center, and other local homes and restaurants. Neighborhoody feel. Decent equipment, creative and in good shape, but nothing for school-age kids once the water sprayer (which claims about 1/4 of the total area) is off. Couldn't judge normal traffic, as we visited during a holiday weekend, but it certainly wouldn't take too many kids to fill the place up...
Overall rating: 7