Monday, April 2, 2018

37th & Mount Vernon Street Playground

Nestled in West Philadelphia's Mantua Neighborhood is a clever little park that fits a ton of play on a small sunny hillside.  It's worth a stop if you're in the neighborhood.  The 37th and Mount Vernon Street Playground (a park begging for a new with more character) includes a new basketball court, and two age-specified play areas.  It's a small space on a relatively steep slope for Philadelphia - challenging terrain for play areas and ball courts that want to be "flat."

Mt. Vernon does it with grace.   


2-5 play area
  • Kompan Blazer (two seats) - this rocker gets a lot of play.  The two seater doesn't come with the center platform of the three-seat option, which inspires a lot of balance challenges, but a nice (and narrow) addition where space is limited.
  • A compound structure, possibly from Kompan's Galaxy series (corrections welcome in the comments!), with an activity panel, hammock, low rope climbers, and monkey bars.  It's a great little piece that appears to really stretch the designated 2-5 range.  The low ropes are ideal for very young children learning to pull up and walk, and the monkey bars could challenge older children with some creative climbing.   

5-12 play area
  • Kompan Supernova - a low profile, but plenty popular spinning ring that encourages older children to play and challenge together.  While the park was empty during our visit, I have seen the Supernova at other playgrounds (Herron Park), and it often gets a touch, if sometimes brief - even from older kids.
  • Kompan Galaxy - I'd love to come back on a warm summer day and see this piece in action.  It has a dramatically high chair, and lots of bells and whistles packed into a narrow use area.  Having never seen it in use, it's tough to comment.

Ages:  2-12
Surface: Poured Rubber
Shade:  Mt. Vernon benefits from a massive Ailanthus and other canopy trees to the south, though new trees are limited
Water:  None
Other: Plenty of seating, two picnic tables, and full court basketball 

Impressions:   It's impressive how much play is fit into Mt. Vernon Park, and wonderful how much of it is done without fences within the park.  The park runs 225 feet, and drops roughly 9 feet in that length.  Most of that grade change is made up with a small planted slope in the middle of the park, which is artfully retained by stepping concrete seat walls.  I only wish they ran the full perimeter of the court to take pressure off of a steep slope, which looks like a difficult place to establish plants - especially with all the fun children could have playing on the hillside.  The park appears to be very well lit, has plenty of seating and trash cans, and a generously sized rain garden that takes water from 37th street (and keeping it out of the city's overloaded sewer system) .  It's hard to imagine fitting more in such a tight space.  Mt. Vernon is part of the Trust for Public Land's Parks for People program - if your not familiar with it, check it out - a non-profit program that renovates parks where they are most needed.  This is a park that can truly anchor a neighborhood by creating comfortable, active spaces for all ages, and a great credit to the Parks for People mission.  

Wednesday, January 24, 2018

Peace and Play at Weccacoe Square Playground

Before the cheesesteaks and the Mummers, the Lenape people named the area we know as South Philadelphia "Weccacoe" - meaning peaceful place.  Weccacoe Square honors that name today, a delightfully tranquil park among mature Plane trees in Queen Village.  New playgrounds bring welcome life to Weccacoe, and are well worth the visit.

Improvements to the Weccacoe Playground include new 2-5 and 5-12 play areas, with a larger area of safety surfacing, new adjacent tables and chairs, and an impressively tall structure that brings children right next to the second-story windows of beautiful row homes overlooking the park. 


2-5 play area
  • A Little Tykes component post-and-deck system with metal slide.  An elevated canopy ("NU-edge Double Beam Roof") adds some drama to the structure, and welcomes opportunities for imaginary play.  There are a few nice touches here.  "Hear no evil" monkey faces are etched in the stair risers.  Metal mesh barriers provide a little more visibility than standard vertical rods, and keep the structure looking light.  At the top of the stair landing, a metal rod barrier is extruded to create a small bench.  The bench adds a little excitement by tweaking a standard element that normally has little play value.  It's a clever modification that I personally encountered for the first time.

5-12 play area
  • A Little Tykes component post-and-deck system, with a variety of bells and whistles.  Most notably, the structure rises to ~10' at the north end, an impressive height for a spiral slide, and a wonderfully elevated perch for lookout games.  Criss-crossing rope climbers allow children to scale all the way to the high post.  Unfortunately, the rope climbers and a rope bridge on the structure's back side are a little dull, and don't seem to inspire much interest.  The pitched roofs repeat a motif on the smaller structure and add to the vertical drama.
  • An arch swing structure with three belt swings, two tot seats, and an inclusive seat

Ages: 2-12, and up.  There's plenty of room to run around
Surface: Poured Rubber
Shade: 1.5? (there were no leaves for our visit, but the large trees are all on the perimeter, and trees within the play area are quite small)
Water: Fortunately if it's as sunny as it looks, there's a pole fountain that appears to be in working order.  The fountain was turned off for the season during our visit.
Other: Adjacent tennis court (neighborhood residents reserve times in advance), outdoor ping pong table, tables and chairs, and a community center.  The park is fenced, though has always been open to my knowledge, even at very early hours.

Impressions:  The matching structures at Weccacoe are quite attractive, and inspired a imaginary fort game with a large group of children while we were there, running back and forth and climbing both decks.  I imagine this may be due to their orientation (the structures seem to face one another) and the grand height of the 5-12 deck.  It's nice to see a 2-5 structure get some use by older children, although this might be just as disruptive for younger children.  The poured rubber surface appears to be exceptionally well-installed.  It's a real surprise to feel just how soft and bouncy poured rubber can be at its best - especially under a ~10' structure.  This is my first time seeing Little Tykes in the city.  I was pleasantly surprised by the quality of the structures and a few features noted above, though they are just standard post-and-deck, and don't look as though they would inspire a lot of excitement for repeat visitors.  Weccacoe Square is undoubtedly a fun and greatly improved place to play, and worth a visit if you're in the neighborhood.  

Overall Rating: 7/10