Playground parity: Can Bronx children be trusted with sand?

“I have asked the Parks Department why there are no sandboxes in my neighborhood in the Bronx, or as far as I can tell anywhere outside of Manhattan, and the response I got was troubling. I was told that residents in the outer boroughs do not treat the sand boxes with respect”

My children and I go to the Fort Independence Park playground almost every day. We love our home playground and feel very comfortable there. But we are an itinerant group. As a homeschooling family, we get all around the city, and I have probably been in every playground in Manhattan in the last few years. And guess what?

The playgrounds in Manhattan are really nice. They are much, much nicer than the playgrounds in the Bronx.

Almost every Manhattan playground seems to have recently undergone a multi-million dollar renovation. They all have innovative, soft cushiony surfaces that feel like felt; paid “play facilitators” who seem to be majoring in early childhood education; and burbling water features rather than the spray-in-your-face variety most children actually abhor.

At Fort Independence Park playground, I have to be careful to keep my toddler out of the swing area when the big kids are there. The gate has been broken since we moved in, and he’s likely get seriously beaned in the head. And of course, there is no sandbox. Come to think of it, I have never seen a sandbox in the Bronx.

And although the city has supposedly already spent $200 million on Bronx Parks as “mitigation” for the $3 Billion Croton Water Filtration Plant (money we all suspected was simply replacing the money that should have been spent on upkeep anyway), I have never personally seen any evidence of it.

Actually, that is not true. I have been to Sachkerah Woods, which underwent a $2.9 million renovation in 2007, and it’s pretty nice. (No sandbox.) But how does it compare to a $3 million playground renovation in Manhattan—a borough which incidentally did not have to submit to a 9-story hole dug in its largest park to get its playgrounds fixed?

Sachkerah Woods in Van Cortlandt Park– $2.9 million in 2007. No sand. Bronx children cannot be trusted with sand, just as Bronx adults cannot be trusted near the Jerome Park Reservoir.

Ancient Playground at 85th and 5th— $3 million in 2009. Big sandbox not in picture. The yellow surface in the foreground is soft and felt-like and pretty mind-boggling.

Here are a few other recent Manhattan renovations:

Imagination Playground at South Street Seaport– $4.3 million in 2010, plus $3 million to move a water main. That’s all sand in the foreground. “Staff is on site at all times to facilitate play.”

Evelyn’s Playground at the north end of Union Square Park– $3.8 million in 2009. It features a giant metal dome, tube slides, and of course an enormous sand box.

Here, for comparison, are some recent Bronx renovations, completed with the Water Filtration money. They look pretty nice, but it seems to me they are not as innovative as the Manhattan playgrounds on which similar money was spent.

I plan to visit each “completed” project, let my kids play, and take pictures of my own.

Mullaly Park– $6 million in 2009, which included ball fields and picnic areas

Devoe Playground, Story Playground, Soundview Park and Aqueduct Lands were all reopened in August 2008 and cost $14 million collectively. This is Devoe Playground.

Edenwald Playground, $2.2 million, reopened in 2010. Not a speck of sand in sight.

by Kristin Hart, President of FIPNA

Editor:  Photos and complete article is here:  Playground parity

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3 responses to “Playground parity: Can Bronx children be trusted with sand?”

  1. David Haddaway

    Kristin, perhaps I can shed some light on it. Some of the projects came from conservancies and private money, not the Parks Department. In our past twenty-five years designing, selling, and building 2,000+ playgrounds, our most successful have been community built. In the more recent years there has a been a divide in our communities that essentially dissolved this concept. There are still a few suburban towns that have the dedicated parent/teacher groups/non-profits necessary to pull off a build, but nothing like what it once was. When the city has an architect in an office somewhere disconnected from the kid’s world going through catalogs just picking equipment he or she likes, the wrong equipment is going to be selected. We need parents like you to organize the community and raise money and then use companies like ours who offer complementary design and equipment options to create a playground that suites your community.
    When it comes to sand, the urban legends about them becoming litter boxes and habitats for critters along with the fact that they are maintenance nightmares has kept them from being incorporated into designs. In the case that you do come across a new playground with sand, there are risks being taken. It’s clear sand and water play rate the highest in play value, but with restrictions from the ASTM, ADA, and CPSC rules and regulations our hands are often tied. At the same time, the regulations are the manufacturers and designers only defense when a parent of an injured child feels like suing.
    So my advice is this, if you want a sand box in your community, build one. There are companies like ours that can help make this happen, but ultimately it’s on you and the parents like you to get things done. If you organize you can create a louder voice and they will have to listen.

  2. Lei

    A park for kids of all ages? Really?
    Unfortunately everyday after 3 pm til down, there’s incredible violence by teenagers inside Evelyn’s Playground at Union Square Park. Every single day there are serious beatings, private parts touching and shoving of girls and plain lude behavior and scary vocabulary which includes threats, adult language and insults to each other and whoever tries to reason with them.
    This is done in front of toddlers and small children who have to witness this. The worst part is that parents are not able to say or tell them anything because of fear of getting hurt up or insulted by these teens and pre teens, who in some cases are taller than us. It’s gotten to the point where parents and children have to leave after witnessing little kids getting run over, while these crazy teengers are running after another.
    Also I would like to mention that some of them smoke inside the playground and some say they have weapons. Do we need to see somebody getting shot before parks department and law enforcent move a finger?
    We have called 311, who never send anyboby, 911 who don’t seem to care, telling us to call 311 or parks department. Today like any other day, an hour after a gang beating, the parks security showed up just because they were giving a couple of tourist a ticket. When we approached them about the problem they told us to wait, then the teens noticed the parks dept security and run away before being confronted.
    Finally they came inside the playground and did nothing. Their excuse was, that it is only the two of them and they had to no time to come and check out any violence inside the playground.
    They said they were busy, also they mentioned that they could not do anything because they were underage and it was their right to be there, even when a few witnesses told them about what was happening and we even have photos of the incidents.
    At this point we don’t know what else to do.
    I’m sure people can come up with photos and videos showing how dangerous Evelyn’s playground at Union Squre has become for families.
    Shame on the Parks department, Union Square Partnership and the police department for doing nothing. Yeah, did I mention there’s a police station under the actual playground inside the subway station at Union Square and they don’t bother to come upstairs and do what is right.
    We believe this is a playground for children who want to have a good time and be able to enjoy the little outdoor space there is for them to play not a boxing ring. There needs to be a real guard inside the playground at all times or at least from 3 til close and to set up tougher rules and/or a camera .
    The families
    (concerned mother)

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