Facility Profile - November 2007
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Beating the Heat

Marjorie Stoneman Douglas Park in Miami Beach, Fla.

By Emily Tipping

ou can't see them. You can't hear them. You can't smell them or taste them, but if you stay out in the sun too long, you'll eventually feel their effects. The sun's ultraviolet rays have been called the most important environmental factor involved with developing skin cancer, the most common form of cancer in the United States. Among their recommendations for ameliorating the effects of UV rays, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommend seeking shade, particularly during the midday hours when UV rays are stronger and more damaging.

In addition to its potential to cause life-threatening diseases, too much sun also makes for too much heat, which was the case at Marjorie Stoneman Douglas Park, located in the heart of trendy South Beach just steps away from the Atlantic Ocean in Miami Beach, Fla. The park includes a playground with structures designed for 2- to 5-year-olds and 5- to 12-year-olds, but with virtually no shade covering the equipment, the park was simply too hot for kids to play in for much of the year.

"From about April-May to November-December, it was pretty much unusable because the blacktop would become too hot, and the slides would bake in the sun," said Catherine Prescott, a local parent who helped spearhead community action to bring shade to the blisteringly hot park. "We always knew we needed shade.

We talked about it, and for the past four or five years the discussion had been in the air."

Community activism on the part of local residents eventually brought a solution to the park. Local citizens banded together to bring their desire for shade to the attention of city representatives.

"It was a long process—I'm not going to kid anyone," Prescott said. "I drafted a letter to the commissioners and the mayor, asking for help. We asked them for a shade structure to protect kids and make the playground more usable."

Local government leaders had a very positive response and took up the issue as an agenda item, inviting the community leaders to attend a meeting and state their case. Once the commission approved the project, the budget money was put in place and the Miami Beach Parks and Recreation Department was given a directive to make it happen.