Wednesday, July 28, 2010

A welcome retreat in West Philly: Clark Park playground

Playground: Clark Park
Location: 43rd & Chester (1 block south of Baltimore), SW corner
Date visited: 7/28/10 (late afternoon)

Equipment: Two zones within a few yards of each other:
  • Tot lot (marked 2-5 years) has two playsets: (1) good-sized standard playset, with two slides (both metal), a narrow solid bridge/walkway that would give toddlers a safe thrill of adventure, unusual kinds of climbing options, and under-set play zones (a crawl-through hole, "shop window," etc.); (2) a smaller, lower, dinosaur-shaped piece with low steps and climbing and two smaller (plastic) slides, as well as a crawl space/fort underneath. There are also 4 bucket swings in this zone.

  • Older kid area is also multi-level, with a range of challenges including 3 slides of different heights (all metal, 4-7 ft), a rope climbing net, a ring-based monkeybar stretch, a solid bridge, and a variety of spaces underneath (hole, bench, window, etc.). Also 3 strap swings and one chair swing in this zone.
material: modern resin & metal, plus rope wall; scale: large play area in extensive park.
Ages: 1-10 (12?)
Surface: rubbery throughout play areas
Shade(0-3): 2+
Water: N
Other: big grassy park with paths, picnic and play areas, basketball court, low stone wall; water ice cart and 2 semi-permanent porta-potties present on day of visit; occasional theatrical and musical events in the evenings
Access: unfenced

Impressions: A cheerful and neighborhoody playground, busy but not crowded, with colorful equipment in a pleasant open park full of mature trees -- the presence of additional green areas across the streets to east (a garden) and north (more park, including a cement climbing turtle) increase the feeling of expansiveness here. The equipment seems very well designed for a range of ages, and includes types of climbing in both zones that we hadn't seen before. Great for families with kids of many ages, and for combining play with a picnic or trip to a nearby cafe (I glimpsed patio tables a little farther up 43rd). Also happily multiethnic. Worth a trip!
Overall rating: 9

Sunday, July 25, 2010

Great for clambering but needs more: Sacks Playground

Playground: Sacks Playground
Location: 4th and Federal (entrance on corner)
Date visited: 7/25/10 (early Sunday morning)

Equipment: Two jungle gyms -- one short and fairly long, accessible by steps or various ladders/climbing walls, including a bridge but no slides (!); the other basically just a tall tower, accessible by two tall ladders and with a spiral slide. Shorter jungle gym also includes a cool racing car game (two cars run around a track when you turn a crank), but partially broken (only one car moves smoothly). Fairly large free-standing climbing wall, including low tunnels to crawl through. Low multi-tunnel crawling area. Two-foot high stone turtle with many footholds for climbing. 8-foot tall tower for climbing. Two strap swings.

Ages: 1-8 years
Surface: Rubberized foam throughout
Shade(0-3): 2
Water: No
Other: Public pool, large ball field, basketball courts, extra blacktop and grass; another large park across 4th Street
Access: Dawn to dusk? Fenced in, but gate open at 4th and Federal when visited at 7:30 AM on a Sunday, so presumably open most of the time?

Impressions: Appealing and novel set of equipment, with quite a few options for smaller children. Clean with a nice playing surface. Between the multiple climbing walls, tall climbing structure, usual ladders on jungle gyms, and tunnels and turtle, good clambering options for all ages. However, a glaring lack of slides -- the main jungle gym has none! -- you climb up and then need to climb back down. The one slide is only accessible by a pair of tall ladders, not good for younger children, at least not without assistance. It appears that there was once a connection between the two jungle gyms, which would explain the lack of slide for the one, but now there is a boarded-up circular hole at the end of each. Another glaring lack -- no bucket swings, and indeed only two strap swings. Overall, it feels like a pleasant environment that is in need of just a bit more development -- dealing somehow with the boarded-up ends of the jungle gym, for example. If that happened, this would be a very nice playground -- already it has a nice feel and an above-average variety of climbing possibilities.
Overall rating: 6 (higher than that in terms of feel and climbing options, but some glaring deficiencies in terms of slides and swings)

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Small shady refuge: Gold Star Park

Playground: Gold Star Park
Location: On Wharton, between 6th & 7th (small interior streets)
Date visited: 7/18/10 (Sunday late morning)

Equipment: One small playset, including one slide (metal), a hanging bar, some crow's nests, and some climbing bits (including a "barrel roll" ladder). No swings or other equipment.
material: modern resin & metal; scale: small park with single playset area inside
Ages: 1-3
Surface: rubbery composite around playset
Shade(0-3): 3!
Water: N
Other: grassy areas, benches, blacktop, lots of shade, one large partly fenced blacktop that looks like a basketball court with no nets
Access: can't be closed, but posted 6am-10pm

Impressions: Feels like the old community parks of my youth -- mostly for shady picnics and "running around" -- except that about half of it is inexplicably paved. (It seems like a retired light pole could be repurposed for a basketball hoop, but perhaps that would make a peaceful space too noisy for the quiet townhouses on all sides.) Still, it was a real respite on a hot day, and our 29-month-old ran around with glee and rolled her ball in the grass.
Extras: There are apparently concerts in this park on Thursday nights in the summer. Also, a man sitting on a bench was surfing wifi; I forgot to ask whether it was free or filched...
Overall rating: 7 (for toddlers only)

Fun in the sun: Columbus Square

Playground: Columbus Square Recreation Center
Location: block bounded by Wharton & Reed, 12th & 13th -- enter on 12th for playgrounds
Date visited: 7/18/10 (Sunday morning)

Equipment: Two separate zones:
  • A tot zone is protected by a gated fence and some decorative plantings from the rest of the space. Its playset includes 2 slides (both metal), a solid bridge, stairs, and a good mix of simple ladders and a low rope ladder, all good for those learning to climb. Also 4 bucket swings here (a nice type with a higher back, that I haven't seen before), and the whole zone is covered with rubbery surfacing. No actual shade at 10:30, but low roofs over the playset ends made it feel a bit shady.

  • The bigger kid area has a multi-level play structure that includes 2 straight slides (4' and 6') and 1 twisty slide -- all metal -- lots of climbing bits, a crawl-through bridge tube (big enough for a toddler to walk through, bending down a bit), and an arched solid bridge; also, underneath, a few possible play spots for smaller kids like a crawl-through hole and and a "shop-window" ledge. The upper end of this structure was high enough to challenge (and even daunt) our 29-month-old adventurer. A little tricky for parents who like to get up on the playset with their kids too. Four strap swings finish out this zone.
material: modern resin & metal; scale: medium space in a larger park.
Ages: 1-4, 3-10, respectively?
Surface: rubbery around play spaces; brick elsewhere
Shade(0-3): 0
Water: Y (not observed)
Other: ball field, rec. center, grassy area, dog park, extra paved space (for bikes and balls); also an interesting closed (round) building at the far end of the paved space.
Access: dawn to dusk?

Impressions: This appears to be a recently renovated space, with a modernist rec. building, lots of colorful plantings, and nice equipment that offers a range of play for many ages -- it's not huge, but it's well chosen and designed. Lack of shade made our visit a bit brutal in summer heat, but it's probably a great spot in most seasons, especially for families with kids in a range of ages. (Note that the Christopher Columbus Charter School is right nearby, which may mean some daytime or afterschool traffic in spring and fall.) Will be nice when the tiny trees have matured in another decade or so. We'll definitely be back on a cooler day!
Overall rating: 8