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)
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!