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

Sunday, November 12, 2017

Return to Dickinson Square

We're revisiting Dickinson Square Park this week.  Renovated in 2012, the is among the best places for families in southeast Philadelphia - not so much for the play equipment, but for the mature tree canopy, and the large mound of artificial turf surfacing.  It's a comfortable, wide-open space among the narrow streets of Pennsport.  The renovation retains a crescent concrete seat wall and uses it to frame play areas designed for ages 2-5, 5-12, and an array of six to-and-fro slides (two for younger children). 


2-5 play area (appeals most to children 1-4)
  • Kompan Blazer - you may know it from other recent playground installations in the city - a three-person spring rocker that is a real winner for interaction among children.   
  • A house-theme stair and slide, with an attached horizontal rope ladder.  Young children delight in the slide.  The rope climbers are a nice addition, but get very little use - possibly because of the small size of the ladder.  A 90-degree turn from the stair to the slide (with an open fall of 4' at the top) keeps the parents of young children on their toes.

Ages 5-12 play area
  • A compound structure, also by Kompan, that features two spinners, a balance pad, some very modest cord climbers, and an inclined balance bar.  
  • (removed) A pyrimidal, rotating climber (possibly a Dynamo Apollo).  The foundation for this climber failed, and it was removed in summer 2017.  

Ages: All ages, but best for children 1-10.   
Surface: Artificial Turf 
Shade (0-3): 3 - Mature canopy of London Plane Trees - majestic, and extremely comfortable
Water: N 
Other: adjacent basketball court, adjacent tables and chairs, a community center, sculpture that children love to climb on, shaded grassy areas, and lots of space enjoyed by dog walkers, a weekly (small) farmer's market
Access: No barriers, standard park hours

Impressions:  This is one of my favorite parks in Philadelphia.  The equipment is successful enough and provides a good variety of play types and challenges, though the removed 5-12 rotating climber is sorely missed, and older children may find the playground a little dull. The real star here is an open turf mound.  It's enormously popular with families in the summer, creates an interesting area for young children to walk and run, and provides a comfortable spot for parents to sit and supervise the playground.  Lawns at nearby parks are generally dominated by dog walkers, making the mound a unique place to sit and relax in the "grass."  If you're concerned about the toxicity of turf mounds - it's worth learning more.  You won't find crumb rubber among the artificial grass blades, and, despite it's popularity the mound has held up well - with only a slight tear at a seam where turf mats cover the mound.  If anything, the mound is too popular; it attracts older children playing soccer and football, and there's not quite enough space for a simultaneous soccer game and family picnics.  It's a sign of the renovations success and Dickinson Square's wide appeal.

Overall Rating: 9/10

Thursday, November 2, 2017

New face!

We'd like to welcome a new face to this project -- KK, who has a young child and is eager to update some of our reviews where the playgrounds have been renovated, as well as help to fill in the map with visits to some far-flung locations around the city. I hope that means that the map and the blog can continue to be of service to beleagured parents around the region for many more years!

Happy playing!

Tuesday, June 9, 2015

May be about done

If it's not obvious, this project appears to have reached an end. Our kid decided she was a little too old for a lot of playgrounds, and once she was in school, we were less inclined to spend every weekend on this single activity. There are a couple of visits hanging about that have never been blogged, and we might manage a surprise outing at some point just to fill in some of the under-represented zones, but in all likelihood our playground reviewing days are past. Luckily, we feel pretty good about the 150 or so playgrounds we managed to visit all over town, and especially for having put together a map of known and suspected playgrounds (recently made functional again!) for the benefit of other parents.

May all your obstacles be surmountable and all your hot days cooled with sprayers and shade!
Best, ACM, RSM, and MSMM

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Ziehler playground: ample playground, could use some shade

Playground: Ziehler
Location: B St at Olney
Date visited: Jun. 17, 2013

  • Smaller fenced-in zone with fun "firetruck" jungle gym (with low monkey bars) and a low playset with a tube slide (empties even with the ground), 2 medium straight slides, climbing, "tic-tac-toe" critters, and 4 bucket swings
  • Zone for bigger kids with 4 strap swings (1 missing) and a higher playset with six slides (including straight, bumpy, spiral and tube slides, all plastic) and lots of climbing options
Ages: 1-9
Surface: rubbery amid blacktop
Shade(0-3): 0
Water: N
Other: basketball, baseball, and soccer fields; extra blacktop and grassy areas; colorful rec center with covered picnic area, swimming pool
Access: 10-6?

Impressions: This playground is a bit faded and worn (with some loose trash and graffiti), but actually offers reasonable play options for younger frolickers, in a setting of wide grassy ball fields.  Middle school across the street probably generates some weekday traffic, but lots of places for a shady picnic on the weekend.  The thing this space most needs is more shade, and there are several grassy squares in the pavement offering places to start a tree-planting project.

Overall rating: 6

Barrett/Lindley playground: nice spot in North Philly for the smaller kids especially

Playground: Barrett Playground (according to sign onsite; Google map calls it Lindley playground)
Location: 8th and Duncannon (location of playground; large field is on Lindley, at 7th)
Date visited: Jun 17, 2013

  • Small kids' zone (fenced in, shady) has a cement turtle (can climb on or under), 4 bucket swings and a small playset with a jointed bridge and three plastic slides (2 straight, 1 curved)
  • Bigger playset has 3 tall straight slides (2 plastic, 1 metal), 1 spiral plastic slide, monkey bars, and a fireman's pole
  • 4 strap swings near bigger playset
  • freestanding "totem pole" water sprayer, surrounded by a cement circle
Ages: 1-11
Surface: rubbery, though dried out/hardened in spots
Shade(0-3): 1 (some in small-kids zone, none in big-kids zone)
Water: Y (see above)
Other: chess tables, extra blacktop, tennis courts, large football field (plus multiple baseball, though seemed largely unused), basketball, small rec center
Access: fenced in, but not sure about hours, presumably standard rec center hours

Impressions: Nice spot for little kids, with a deeply shady protected corner of the park.  Decent offering for older kids, but the equipment gets no shade from the many trees (although the swings do) and the raggedy ground surfaces and occasional trash and graffiti detract a bit from the experience.  Basically fine, with a relatively quiet residential setting, but not a draw from any distance

Overall rating: 7