Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Playgrounds Downtown?

Imagination Park, New York City. Designed by the Rockwell Group. 15,000 square feet. Concept: Hundreds of blue foam blocks of various shapes and sizes allow kids to create their own play environment. Renderings: Rockwell Group. Featured in GOOD magazine.

At a meeting of the Residential Advisory Committee for the CityCenterDC (the Old Convention Center project), the discussion veered off the mundane topic of transportation circulation around the site to the design of its planned park. Would it include a playground? "Where are the children," one longtime resident repeatedly asked.

"A playground is not in the current plans," responded the developer, although he was open to the idea. The reasons presented as to why were very similar to that which I heard when I raised the issue with respect to the broken park at 2nd and Massachusetts Avenue NW several months ago:
  1. Few people living downtown have children.
  2. The apartments/condos being built are small and targeted toward single people and young couples, who will inevitably move out as soon as they have children because of DC's terrible school system. Or, if they do stay, they'll move away from downtown to a single family home where there are playgrounds.
  3. The streets around the park very dangerous and its not safe for kids to go to a playground there.
While there's some truth to these points, the more I think about it, the more I'm not buying it.

To a large extent, I believe it is a self-fulfilling prophesy. In fact, a playground or two downtown would get plenty of usage. Even if there's not a whole lot of kids living downtown now, there certainly are some. And then there's the tourists who have kids in tow as well as visitors who will come with their kids to shop downtown, especially when the new CityCenterDC opens. A playground might be a welcome distraction from wandering around a museum or Macy's for hours.

As for the dangerous streets... that's a problem whether its a playground or not, and there are ways to address the situation: (1) Narrow the streets in order to make it a shorter distance to cross. While this may not work at every location, this is an easy solution at the 2nd and Massachusetts Avenue park, for example; (2) install brick, raised, or otherwise prominent crosswalks to send a message that pedestrians come first; (3) place a fence around the playground area to protect against children wandering into the street; and (4) plenty of lighting.

Downtown living... now with children.


IMGoph said...

amen, cary.

induced demand—not just for driving anymore!

pqresident said...

by not having a playground or two downtown, you virtually guarantee that no young families will stay downtown for long. they'll move out to AU Park or MoCo or Arlington. is that what we really want? kinda' goes against the grain of having a diverse community

Anonymous said...

Not having playgrounds is pretty major in my mind. I don't want to move out of downtown, but plan to due to the schools and the lack of playgrounds. In fact, I've often considered a nanny but feel that I have to stick with daycare instead because there's nowhere for a nanny to take kids during the day. Safe playgrounds would make a huge difference.