Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Climbing ribbon! (and it's called Chew!)

Playground: Chew
Location: 19th and Ellsworth (enter on Ellsworth)
Date visited: 11/25/09

Equipment: Nice small-tot set of equipment (4 sets of steps, 1 ladder, 2 slides, bridge, "lunch counter" underneath), 4 bucket swing, 4 strap swings, Decent but not-so-extensive equipment for older kids (3 ladders, 1 slide, quarter-barrel to climb up, monkey-bar rotating circles), Very cool "climbing ribbon" -- climbing wall in the shape of a quite twisty ribbon and very tall (maybe 10 feet tall?)
Ages: small-tot to 8ish, though climbing ribbon seems good for even up to high school
Surface: rubberized play surface
Shade(0-3): 0
Water: none
Other: baseball field (crummy looking), batting cage, pool, rec center
Access: rec center is open M-F 1-9:30; unknown if gate to playground is open at other times

Impressions: Main equipment is pretty nice and in decent shape, right about average in terms of size and variety. Climbing ribbon is quite cool, though probably only usable for older kids (maybe 5-year-olds with supervision?). Restricted hours also a significant downside. Unfortunate view of Washington Avenue (though a block away), but overall setting is fairly nice.
Overall rating: 7

Perfectly nice, but more average than its namesake

Playground: Marian Anderson
Location: 17th & Fitzwater (enter on 17th)
Date visited: 11/24/09

Equipment: Minimal small-tot set of equipment (steps, 2 ladders, 2 slides), teeter-totter, 4 bucket swings, 4 strap swings, Good older-kid set of equipment (5 ladders, 4 slides, poles, bridge, monkey bars), Cool "spaceship" -- 4-foot high pod that can be climbed into from a pair of parallel short ladders
Ages: toddler to 7ish
Surface: rubberized surfaces for each play area
Shade(0-3): 1 -- some trees are the periphery, and the outfield wall may provide a little
Water: none
Other: large & nice baseball field (playground is just over outfield fence), batting cage, pool, rec center
Access: Rec center hours are M-F 1-10 PM, Sat 9-5. There is a small gate on 17th that was open when visited (despite rec center being closed) -- not sure if that's a common occurrence

Impressions: Particularly nice amount of space, with good separation between the various play zones and several benches around. Even relatively scenic between the baseball field, rec center murals, and relatively quiet streets around. Equipment is fairly average (and scant for younger kids) but in decent shape. Rec Center is not particularly welcoming (no posted hours), but then that seems to be the way Philly rec centers are, and is not really the fault of the playground (though it does make it unpredictable whether you can access the playground outside of the official rec center hours, not to mention being able to find out what those hours are...)
Overall rating: 7

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Running and climbing, free from cars: Penn's central square

Playground: Levy Park on the U.Penn. campus
Location: follow the walkway SW from 34th & Walnut, or North (then E) from 36th and Spruce
Date visited: several times in summer/fall 2009

Equipment: Paved walkways, grassy areas, a large button sculpture that can be clambered on, a flight of sub-standard-size steps, and grassy hills of various steepness.
Ages: 1-3
Surface: Grass, stone, pavement.
Shade(0-3): 2
Water: N
Other: People-watching, benches, occasional events.
Access: college campus green, with expected flows of traffic and occasional events.

Impressions: A great change of pace for new walkers and other explorers -- this campus expanse offers grassy areas good for lounging, picnicking, or playing, as well as walkways in many directions, all of which is well buffered from automobile traffic. Additional great toddler features include the famous Button sculpture, which is irresitable to young climbers (who can drop down through the holes), and a flight of shortish steps (look to your left when facing the button and library) that make for great practice stairs -- my 18-21-month old and I average 6-8 trips up and down per visit. She also loves running down the grassy hill at the end of her more serious work... Downsides include large numbers of pedestrians, depending on the time of day, and occasional tents or other activities that take over the prime real estate here. Upsides include numerous restaurants and coffee shops in the vicinity (especially along Walnut and Sansom). For those with kids who love buses as much as mine does, this plaza also makes a great cross-town destination; catch the 42 or 21 on Walnut (get off at 34th) or the 40 along Lombard (get off on Spruce after it returns from its detour) for a pleasant outing.
Overall rating: 9 (for toddlers only)

A tiny playspace: 10th & Mt. Vernon

Playground: "10th & Lemon" (rec center?)
Location: In the middle of the block just W of 10th, gates on Mt. Vernon and Lemon (a tiny street)
Date visited: 11/18/09

Equipment: Two zones separated by a low stone wall (fun to walk along):
  • The tot zone has a very low playset with a single plastic slide and a chain of monkey bars. One plus was an unusual climbing structure like the outside of a barrel (effect between a climbing wall and a ladder). Also two bucket swings in this zone.
  • Not really a full zone; a set of higher strap swings is accompanied by a single tall slide, maybe 15 feet tall, a free-standing nerve-challenger with a spiral metal descent.
Outside the seeming boundaries of the playground (on the N side) was a very cute shallow pool for water play, complete with colorful animals that must spray (a seal, duck, whale, and frog). This was, of course, turned off in November.

Material: modern resin and metal, a bit worn; scale: small.
Ages: toddler and brave older kids
Surface: rubbery around equipment, concrete elsewhere
Shade(0-3): 1
Water: Y
Other: Paved area, stone chess table, broken-down basketball court.
Access: dawn-dusk? (no gates)

Impressions: Tucked inside a small block, this playground would be easy to miss -- apparently for the city too. The basketball court is embarrassing to see, although the water pool and nearby murals are cheery. The play equipment was ok, but only for the littlest kids (our 21-month-old was not engaged by the playset, and not old/nervy enough for the big slide). No idea whether it gets much play; during our visit on a sunny fall afternoon, we had the place to ourselves.
Overall rating: 4

An abandoned playzone: East Poplar playground

Playground: East Poplar
Location: On 8th Street, W side, between Poplar and Brown (closer to Brown) -- entrances on 8th and from under train bridge (W)
Date visited: 11/18/09

Equipment: Three loose zones:
  • One would be good for crawlers and small tots -- it involves two low cement climbing turtles and an abstract sculptural element in-between. The turtles appear to be water elements/squirters, but the presence of a climbing object between them may mean that they're no longer functional. (There was nobody around to ask.)
  • A small kids zone has two slides, some climbing equipment, and a stretch of monkey bars. There is also a bar for swings, but with nothing hanging there.
  • An area for slightly larger kids has two structures: (a) a two-level playset with a wide metal slide at each height and some monkey bars, and (b) an intriguing pair of "lookout towers" that could each be climbed via an internal "submarine-style" ladder; however, the (tunnel) walkway connecting them is missing, leaving an alarming gap. There's also a stand for 4 swings in this area, but there aren't even chains hanging there.
material: modern "resin and metal" style, but very worn, with cracked coatings; scale: medium space.
Ages: 1-5?
Surface: rubbery uner equipment, blacktop elsewhere
Shade(0-3): 1
Water: ?
Other: pool, basketball courts, tennis courts, picnic tables, a large grassy area, rec. center
Access: dawn to dusk? (no gates)

Impressions: Lots of color here, but desperately needs some love in terms of both upkeep and variety -- our 21-month-old was barely challenged by the "bigger kids" equipment (although she loved the taller slide). The complete lack of swings is really a sin -- feels like a concession of defeat. It may be that this location is a little outside of any particular neighborhood (it's between the train bridge and an Orthodox church, with houses a block or two away), such that there's nobody to advocate for this playground and demand reasonable upkeep, but surely the area could use better options.
Overall rating: 3

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Parts West: A Playground in Mantua

Playground: 39th & Olive playground
Location: On 39th at Olive (just north of Fairmount), entrances on 39th
Date visited: 11/15/09

Equipment: Two main zones, separated by a partial fence:
  • Younger kids' section has 3 "hobby horse" sort of riding toys on springs, 4 bucket swings, and one playset with numerous ladders, a solid bridge, and two rather simple (metal) slides.
  • Older kids' area has lots of climbing options, to various heights of the main playset, which also has a crawl tunnel, fireman's pole, and 4 total (metal) slides including a high straight and a steep spiral one. Also 6 strap swings and a free-standing additional climbing structure in this area. Nearby are a pair of stone seals that must provide overlapping sprays of water in summertime.
material: modern resin, but weathered, with metal slides; scale: large space
Ages: 1-10?
Surface: rubbery around equipment, asphalt elsewhere
Shade(0-3): 0
Water: Y
Other: Swimming pool, basketball courts (3, with bleachers), open blacktop areas, small rec. center, nearby park-like area with benches and gravel/clay, grass, and woodchip-covered areas.
Access: 6AM - 10PM

Impressions: Nice mix of equipment would serve a range of ages and activities. However, the hilly terrain, while fun for a new walker, also attracts lots of skateboarders and bladers (the only other users during our visit, probable ages 6-10), which could be tricky when busy, especially in the tot area. Also, there appeared to be quite a bit of broken glass, both new (a couple of smashed bottles) and old (tiny shards imbedded in the play surface). The effect of several cheerful murals is undermined by a lot of Sharpie graffitti on unpainted parts of the equipment -- something of a reflection of the depressed state of the neighborhood.
Overall rating: 6

Monday, November 9, 2009

New site resource: Map of known playgrounds

Our fall has been horrible with some home contracting work and other distractions, so haven't been adding reviews here as fast as we'd like to. Meantime, are developing a really important resource: a map of all the playgrounds that we've been able to identify, whether from the Recreation Department website, other parents' recommendations, or our own reconaissance, whether or not we've visited them yet. (The version below is a small window onto the whole.) Have put "thought-bubble" markers on reviewed playgrounds, with links to our reviews, and marked all the rest (not quite complete as of posting, but soon) with small black icons, so that you can at least see what options might exist near you or near someplace you're headed. Will also get a link to this built into the blog header/sidebar in the next few days. Hope this is helpful!

View playgrounds in a larger map