The front page of today’s New York Times showcases an innovation that we can only hope never makes it to D.C.—an unconventional playground designed to better engage children. A revolutionary concept in child rearing, this new playground would come with “play workers” ready to assist the kids in their advanced, imaginative play. And just what sort of play would take place? Well, according to the Times, there’ll be plenty of “water, ramps, sand, and specially designed objects meant to spur the imagination.”
If that sounds like a highway interchange with some cool signs, check out the rendering of this great new space provided by the Times. Best I can tell, it’s essentially an outdoor volleyball court with some benches and poles, not to mention some wagons that the munchkins can use to carry the water and sand around for their imaginative projects. No swings or slides on this playground—Johnny’s gonna get to work building a facsimile of the new baseball stadium!
Perhaps this concept’ll fly up in New York. But it’s dead on arrival down here, for several reasons:
- Cool toys with or without wheels don’t survive on D.C. playgrounds. A couple of years ago, I was walking home and spotted a toddler on a small truck getting pushed by her mom. I recognized the truck because it came from Stead Playground, where I often go with my son. I asked the woman if she was just borrowing the toy, and she said she was and that she was just going to Safeway before returning it. Yeah, right. Thing never turned up again. These cute red wagons in the Times story? I give them three days at Stead.
- Play workers? Who’s going to actually pay for workers to guide my kid’s leisure time at the park? Does that mean I get a break? Hey, he’s all yours, Mr. Play Worker! I’ll be back in a couple hours. You can just see the DPR press release right now: Department Hires 200 Play Workers; Repairs on Leaky Roofs and Toilets Deferred.
- Water. The rendering in the Times depicts a little kiddie pool of sorts in a sea of sand and some architecturally attractive features. The obvious problem here is drowning. But let’s just suppose that it’s somehow drownproof. A pool of water is the worst possible thing for a playground, just a conveyor of misery. The bully’s going to splash it in everyone’s face. Some kid’s gonna trip, fall in, and cry. Or it’s just gonna dry up, and the drunks will use it as a urinal at night. Look, playground geniuses: Parents struggle to get water out of playgrounds.
If you still don’t believe me, just listen to this blowhard, as quoted in the Times piece:
“’Very little time is spent by kids in playgrounds if they have a choice,’ said Roger Hart, who has been consulting with the Rockwell Group and the city in developing the playground.”
OK, Mr. Hart: Can you explain why my 3-year-old screams, kicks, and cries when I pry him from D.C.’s Turtle Park and its slides, train, swing set, and very conventional sandbox?