Park Test Files #5, Imagination Playground
Oct 20 2010 10:07 PM
Short answer: we like it, but it should have a Danger sign out front, and I would not be surprised if an enterprising personal injury lawyer already set up shop in the Burling Slip area specifically because of it.
Longer answer: off set the iParks NY Park Test Team to pass judgment. Our newest form of transit for these sorties is the lovely NYC bus system...don’t ask me to explain the recent conversion from Limited to Select vs Local...it’s confusing...just have faith that eventually the M15 gets to the South Street Seaport and in general this mode of transport seems to work for the Park Test Kids.
The playground itself is fashioned in the shape of a large boat. It has three main play areas: water play, sand play, and a central free play area. There are also snow shovels, brooms, wheel barrows, and other unusual toys throughout.
The star of the free play area and core to the IP franchise is the large blue foam blocks that are essentially giant tinker toys. They can also be used as an oversized marble or water track and they frequently end up in the water play area as rafts.
The water play area is definitely not your standard playground affair...it is essentially a wading pool that features whimsical jets of water, a structure that lets you damn a stream, and a limited number of connectible pipes.
Finally the sand area features...sand...as well as a structure that can best be described as a few sailboat masts with a bizarre/non-functioning rope and pulley gizmo that looks an awful lot like a rope swing complete with a bag to stand in. But it is definitely not a rope swing.
And so begins the Danger section of this post. The Test Team and I have visited dozens of playgrounds. I’ve never written about safety concerns, let alone called a playground The Widowmaker. Yes, I read about how the new Pier 1 at Brooklyn Bridge Park was singeing toddlers with its innovative frying pan in the sun structures (which have been removed). Yes, I’m aware that there’s a ‘60s concept of Adventure Playgrounds where kids had a better shot of having fun/getting hurt, and that most of those playgrounds were toned down in the safety/litigation conscious ‘90s, and that there’s a school of thought that this went (way) too far.
Perhaps because of this safety culture when I walk into a playground I don’t typically try to assess whether or not the design is a Bad Idea. My kids aren’t toddlers anymore so I expect to be a passive participant, possibly refereeing a sharing debacle, but in general I’ve been conditioned to expect that so long as the kids aren’t doing something obviously absurd they are not likely to exit the playground with a serious injury.
With that preamble: if your kid is 4 years old and enters the sand play area they will try to use the rope and pulley system as a rope swing. If they swing and let go of the rope they’re likely going to land on concrete. If they hold onto the rope and tend towards the masts they’re either going to impact either a wood pole or the lovely brushed stainless steel with sharp exposed edges.
In the water play area the granite structure begs to be climbed on. It’s slippery when wet. If your kid falls they will likely impact sharp edged granite.
The blue tinkertoys frequently get stacked high and invariably one kid ends up on top of a house ‘structure’ that collapses while another kid is inside, all on top of a wood surface.
Finally, the sand play area features a few sheets that have been tied on a railing to form unusual ‘swings’. Despite the laughably disheveled appearance they’re perfectly fine if used with caution, but if you use them enthusiastically or without caution you can end up swinging your kid literally into a steel post.
For better or worse my mind was not paranoid enough to see all of these potential hazards until playground regulars repeatedly mentioned, “hey, you might not want to let your kid do that, last week [insert unfortunate accident] happened”. I’m not sure which is a worse feeling, being the paranoid guy who writes a blog post referring to a playground as The Widowmaker, or not being paranoid enough to see how IP being used the way a 4yr old might logically use it can frequently be unsafe.
So why has the Test Team returned to IP repeatedly? It’s one of the few playgrounds that has water on in October, it gets fantastic sunlight, and if you actively avoid these hazards it’s a lot of fun. When we go to other playgrounds I let my kids run free. At IP I frequently have to say, “no”, and tell other parents, “hey, you might not want to let your kid do that”. It may have been “designed to encourage child-directed, unstructured free play” but in my opinion they either need to insert “supervised” or it needs to be “re-[designed]”. A for effort. B+ for supervised experience. F for unsupervised safety.
If you decide to check it out we can offer an unqualified recommendation of the nearby Italian restaurant Acqua - great food - great service. You can also walk through the Seaport and get a nice view of the sailing ships, waterfront, and Brooklyn Bridge.
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The iParks NY Park Test Team