Sunday, May 29, 2011

A hidden nook for smaller kids: Shissler Recreation Center

Playground: Daniel Shissler Recreation Center
Location: 1 block west of Frankford (=Blair) between Berks and Montgomery; right behind Kensington Performing Arts High School
Date visited: 5/29/11

Equipment: Two apparent zones:
  • One appears to be a water zone, with a cement surface and three cement animals set up as sprayers. (Smallest turtles might offer something to the crawler set even when off.) Trickles of water indicated that these should be functional, but they were not spraying at the time of our visit
  • Playzone has (1) a smaller playset with several types of climbing (including a large arch of barrel-slat ladder good for newer climbers) and a set of double metal slides; (2) the larger playset has tall monkey bars, various climbing, and another set of double metal (straight) slides
material: modern resin & metal; scale: small
Surface: rubbery around equipment; cement elsewhere
Shade(0-3): 2
Water: Y
Other: rec center, basketball courts, large baseball field (marked "closed until August 2011"), large new parking lot (shared with the highschool? for baseball?), grassy lot across the street
Access: 6am - 10pm

Impressions: Small and limited to younger kids (except, perhaps, the monkey bars), but servicable for those. No swings is a minus; water could be nice, but no idea when it runs. Out of the way enough that it probably appeals mostly to those who live nearby, or who make a stop at the Berks station of the Market-Frankford line (accessible by a paved path).
Overall rating: 6-

Decent but lonely: Towey Recreation Center

Playground: Towey Recreation Center
Location: Howard & Berks (SW corner)
Date visited: 5/29/11

Equipment: Several pieces in one medium play zone:
  1. Lower playset (3-4 foot platforms) is unusually big, with lots of climbing of varying difficulty, one plastic curved slide and one straight metal slide, short fireman's pole, and monkey bars.
  2. Several "hobby horse" animals, very stiff
  3. Swings -- 4 strap and 2 bucket (one missing)
  4. Higher playset (5-6 foot platforms) with many climbing ladders and one tall straight metal ladder
material: modern resin & metal
Ages: 1-10
Surface: rubbery around equipment (some holes under monkey bars) and blacktop elsewhere
Shade(0-3): 2
Water: N
Other: baketball rec center with bright abstract mural, handball courts, extra blacktop
Access: open (dawn to dusk)

Impressions: Decent equipment, but covered with graffitti and surrounded by loose trash -- the feeling is dingy even though everything is in functional shape and our 3-year-old had a good time. Faced mostly by the back sides of residential buildings (so it feels more industrial than it is); we enjoyed the crowing of a rooster from a nearby yard.
Overall rating: 6-7

Fishtown Rec Center: A blast of color

Playground: Fishtown Rec Center
Location: Palmer St. and Flora St. (just north of Girard on Palmer); another entrance is on Montgomery and Flora (again, just north of Girard on Montgomery).
Date visited: 5/29/11

  • Smaller playset with lots of climbing, 1 wide plastic curved and 1 straight metal slide
  • Taller playset with climbing, monkey bars, fireman's pole, and a straight metal slide
  • 6 strap swings (1 broken) and 2 bucket swings
  • 3 hobby horse critters (too stiff to rock much, as most seem to be)
  • 2 sit 'n' spin platforms with poles (1 semi-broken/wobbly)
  • central "hill" with brick sides, some raised bricks to make a slanted climbing wall
  • circle with stone tower water units (not on when visited on a Sunday morning in May)
Ages: 1-10
Surface: rubberized by most play areas, blacktop elsewhere
Shade(0-3): 0
Water: Yes (small area with stone tower sprayers)
Other: roller-hockey rink, rec center with large covered area, basketball courts, picnic tables, lib outdoor concert area (maybe?) with tables and benches, library across Montgomery St.
Access: Probably dawn to dusk

Impressions: Clearly a well-loved playground: every inch of equipment, benches, and poles is painted with colors and patterns that make you happy just being there. Had the sense that this was a semi-recent effort to beautify a space that was beginning to run down (e.g., a note indicates that Agnes Irwin School out on the Main Line was part of a recent painting effort; some paint was peeling and graffiti already creeping back in). The central climbing structure is neat and offers the only shaded zone on the site; the rest seems fun but might be prohibitively hot on most summer days. Would love to see a roller-hockey game!
Overall rating: 7+

Saturday, May 21, 2011

A mix of offerings: Vare playground

Playground: Vare playground
Location: between Moore and Morris, 26th and 27th
Date visited: 5/21/11

Equipment: Several separate pieces spread around a medium playzone:
  • One large playset with hight (6-7-foot?) platforms, lots of climbing types, and two straight metal slides of different lenghts
  • One small playset with 3-4-foot platforms, several types of climbing (including the rarish barrel-stave type that's friendly to newer climbers), and one wide metal slide
  • Lots of swings! 6 strap + 4 bucket, all functional
  • A freestanding set of metal monkey bars (around 5 feet tall)
  • A novelty play piece shaped like an arch, which can be used like a techno-teeter-totter (you sit on either end an the entire structure slides back and forth, raising one end or the other, along the underlying curved tube) or like a more advanced challenge, with hand grips underneath the top part and foot rests on the side, so that one or more people could move the thing that way. [Makes more sense in person.]
Ages: 1-10
Surface: rubbery around equipment; blacktop elsewhere
Shade(0-3): 1 (mostly on swings)
Water: N
Other: large field with baseball diamond, basketball courts, pool, grassy areas, and large rec. center
Access: open (= dawn to dusk?)

Impressions: A nice playground and park a block or two from the blight of the 25th Street train viaduct. Decent basic equipment -- especially good challenges for climbers of various skills, but a little short on slides -- and the novelty arch structure makes it possible for a toddler and parent to teeter together. Lots of swings is nice, and the mix of equipment should accommodate families with kids of various ages. Equipment probably gets really hot in midsummer, but there is refuge at the edges and shaded grass for a picnic.
Overall rating: 7-8

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Stinger Square: Gem in Grays Ferry

Playground: Stinger Square
Location: 32nd & Reed
Date visited: 5/15/11

  • Little-kid playset: platform steps, plus two other steps, 3 short metal slides (1 turning), bridge, steering wheel, ground-level bench, tic-tac-toe board
  • Big-kid playset: 5 ladders (including a tall coil) to multi-level platforms, straight metal slide, turning slide, bridge, short firepole, monkey bars
  • 4 bucket swings, 4 strap swings
  • 2 rocking animals (though they were too tight for a 3-year old to make move much)
Ages: 1-10
Surface: rubberized
Shade(0-3): 2
Water: No
Other: 3 cute short tables w/chairs, rec center, swimming pool, several picnic tables
Access: 24/7 (in a public park)

Impressions: Extensive equipment in a nice park setting. Smaller playset is quite accessible for young toddlers, while the bigger one has a lot of possibilities for both bigger toddlers to older kids.
Overall rating: 9

Finnegan Playground: Small, but some novel features

Playground: Donald Finnegan
Location: Wharton between 30th and 29th
Date visited: 5/15/11

Equipment:* 1 playset (4 ladders -- one a quarter-circle -- steps, elevated crawl-through tunnel, 2 slides), large U-shaped ladder bridge from playset to a 7-ft high platform (which is also accessible by a tall ladder and coil ladder, but hard to get down from for younger kids), 4 strap swings
Ages: 1.5-9
Surface: rubberized
Shade(0-3): 0
Water: No
Other: 2 basketball courts, 1 baseball field, rec center
Access: Weekdays and Saturday mornings (according to posted sign)

Impressions: Playground is of limited scope, but in reasonable shape, and U-ladder is a novel addition.
Overall rating: 6

* Edit: Note that there are two playground areas here, separated by the rec. center -- one is obvious from Wharton and the other from 30th Street. Unfortunately, we realized this only after leaving; thus the above review refers only to the SE of the two playground zones.

Sunday, May 8, 2011

Hancock Playground: a minor gem in Kensington

Playground: Hancock Playground
Location: Master (EW) and Hancock (NS), enter on Hancock
Date visited: 5/8/11

  • Big-kid playset: multiple platforms, accessible by steps or 5 ladders (two quarter-circles (one quite large) plus a coil, a zigzag, and a straight); one very tall fire-pole, and one large multibump plastic slide, which unfortunately was not at all slippery
  • Little-kid playset: several platforms accessible by 4 ladders (including quarter-circle and zig-zag), with 3 small slides and a wall decorated as a fire truck with steering wheel
  • 4 strap swings, 2 bucket swings
  • metal merry-go-round (could fit 6-8 kids at once)
  • teeter-totter
Ages: 1-10
Surface: rubberized around play areas
Shade(0-3): 0
Water: No
Other: pool, rec center, basketball court, baseball field
Access: whole block surrounded by tall fence, with chainable entry gate on Hancock St.; posted hours are 7 AM-9:30 PM. For what it's worth, it was open on a Sunday at 10ish, so that's a good sign

Impressions: More-than-average set of equipment, all in pretty good shape, and a good amount of space (within a rec space that is itself quite spacious). The "extras" are nice -- the merry-go-round, the teeter-totter -- and the two playsets themselves are more than the standard fare. It's too bad that the one slide for the big-kid zone was so much less fun than it looked (maybe more slippery pants would help, but I'm skeptical).
Overall rating: 8

Saturday, May 7, 2011

(The other) Smith Playground: big park, standard playground

Playground: Smith playground
Location: 24th & Snyder
Date visited: May 7, 2011

Equipment: 2 play areas; younger-kid area has entry by steps and platforms, coil ladder, quarter-circle ladder, pair of small side-by-side slides, bigger slide, bridge, plus, a real see-saw!; bigger-kid area has 2 ladders (one quarter circle), 2 slides (one spiral), pole, monkey bars, 2 free-standing ladder poles
Surface: rubberized around play areas
Shade(0-3): 2
Water: Yes -- sprayground adjacent to playground (not open when visited)
Other: 2 basketball courts, large sports fields, large park, rec center
Access: 24/7 (in a public park)

Impressions: Not extensive, but standard equipment is in good shape and setting is pleasant (though there's a fair amount of trash and glass a bit away from the play areas). Too bad there are no swings....
Overall rating: 7

Wharton Square: Simple playground in a nice park setting

Playground: Wharton Square
Location: 23rd and Wharton
Date visited: May 7, 2011

Equipment: 2 small play areas; younger-kid play area has platforms for climbing, quarter-circle ladder, 3 slides (1 metal), 4 bucket swings; bigger-kid play area has 2 ladders, 2 slides (1 spiral), climbing pole, monkey bars, 2 strap swings (should have been 4 -- 2 were missing)
Ages: 18 months-8 yrs
Surface: rubberized around play areas
Shade(0-3): 2
Water: No
Other: Rec center, basketball court
Access: 24/7 (in a public park)

Impressions: Minimal amount of apparatus, but in reasonable shape, in a nice setting
Overall rating: 6

Friday, May 6, 2011

Cutting edge getting dull: Manayunk's Pretzel Park

Playground: Pretzel Park playground
Location: Cresson between Cotton and Rector
Date visited: 5/1/11

Equipment: Several zones and freestanding pieces:
  • A small playset with a climbing wall, curved plastic slide, rope climbing net, and space for some missing element

  • A ring-shaped merry-go-round (crumbling in spots)

  • A pole/platform sit-and-spin

  • A wavy "balance beam" that wobbles for a challenge

  • A large playset with climbing (ladder, wall, and steps), suspended chair and wobble platforms, several small seats that can be spiraled up and down their poles, and several "rip line" hand-holds for sliding along a sturdy track.

  • Two pairs of swings, bucket (battered) and strap.
material: modern "adventure-style" ropes, rubber, and metal; scale: medium playspace in a small but hilly park
Ages: 1-12
Surface: rubbery throughout
Shade(0-3): 1
Water: N
Other: dog park, grassy areas, pebbly paved path
Access: open (dawn to dusk?)

Impressions: A neat-looking modern-style adventure playground with offerings to challenge big kids and others well scaled for tots. However, it's taken a real beating since installation and has the cracks and missing elements to prove it (making me wonder whether this style of play equipment has a limited lifespan). Could use some renovation and maybe an old-fashioned tall slide -- nothing here lit up my 3-year-old's face like the simpler fare at Venice Island.
Overall rating: 7

Scenic but forgotten: Venice Island Recreation Center

Playground: Venice Island playground
Location: across the canal and towpath from Main Street between bridges at Cotton and Lock streets
Date visited: 5/1/11

Equipment: Two playsets:
  1. One aimed at littler kids, with platforms of 2-4 feet, four plastic slides (including one partial spiral and one with bumps) -- note that both sets of double straight slides have puncture holds -- misc. climbing, animal puzzle tic-tac-toe

  2. The one for bigger kids spans two levels of the lot (two bridges arch over the drop) with two sets of double plastic slides, fireman's poles, and various climbing
Also a separate area with stairs and space for four swings, all missing.
material: modern resin & metal; scale: medium playspace in a larger recreation zone
Ages: 2-8
Surface: rubbery around equipment; blacktop elsewhere
Shade(0-3): 2
Water: N
Other: basketball, extra enclosed blacktop area, pool, some grassy area, rec. center building with roof-covered area and mosaic walls
Access: ?

Impressions: Nice mix of equipment -- the double level makes that set feel more novel/adventurous than it is -- but badly in need of upkeep, both to remove trash/rubble/graffitti and to fix broken equipment. Somehow the location, with swank Main Street brewpub on one side and the river on the other, seems like it deserves better, but perhaps the isolated location (across the canal from main walks and drives) and/or changing Manayunk demographics (?) make it hard to bring pressure to bear...
Overall rating: 6