Feature Article - July 2021
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Play Along

Inclusive Playgrounds Help Us All Play Together

By Dave Ramont

Another KABOOM! initiative is Play Everywhere. DeMelo pointed out that while they can build one play space at a time, oftentimes there are still barriers keeping kids from accessing them. This could include physical barriers like a highway, or maybe guardians are working multiple jobs and can't get kids to the space. "So we enacted this notion that we put play in unexpected, everyday places. When we start to think about where kids and communities are congregating, we're able to infuse that space with play infrastructure, and now we're creating kid-friendly spaces outside of just the playground." Some examples are bus stops, laundromats, empty lots, sidewalks and grocery stores.

"We're working all across the board with city leaders and grassroots community leaders to think about how we can work together to close play space inequities," said DeMelo. Collaborations have taken place in Chicago, San Francisco, Detroit, Baltimore, Boston and Los Angeles, to name a few. But the organization also points out that rural areas often suffer play space inequities as well, and DeMelo points to several playgrounds recently built in rural Colorado in partnership with the Colorado Health Foundation. "Oftentimes people think that playgrounds that honor inclusive principals have to be large destination playgrounds, and I think from our angle, inclusion is providing spaces for all kids. The other really important part of our work is that our focus on play space equity is directly tied to the racial disparities and racial inequities that exist, and unfortunately there's a clear parallel between the two."

When planning truly universal spaces, Moore stressed that it's important to engage all populations. "It's really important that we as designers don't assume to know what's going to be best, but work with persons with disabilities and not for them; they know best what they need to make a space functional and thriving. (We'll) help clients on where to look, for example occupational therapists, local school systems or community groups. By talking with them, you'll learn what's needed to make a space impactful."

Pottawatomie Park in St. Charles, Ill., features many amenities: event pavilions, a softball field, a miniature golf course, a concession stand, paved paths, outdoor fitness equipment, ample open space, tennis courts and a playground. But they've recently started constructing a second playground—one that's more accessible and inclusive for everyone. Laura Rudow is superintendent of parks and planning in St. Charles, and she said the idea came up during the community input phase of their Comprehensive Master Plan and the park board agreed to make it a priority. "We then applied for an Open Space Lands Acquisition and Development grant through the Illinois Department of Natural Resources and received $248,000. Part of the grant application was to hold community meetings and solicit input on the details of the project, such as playground components to be included." She added that the playground was a planned capital expense, and that the local Kiwanis club donated $15,000 for the purchase and installation of the wheelchair swing.

According to Rudow, a Fond-du-Lac, Wis.-based playground equipment manufacturer provided play features. "Near the actual ramp-accessed play structure, there's a playhouse and a log with holes cut out to be close, but perhaps not fully engaged for a child who wants to be included but not part of all the activity. There are places for passive, make-believe play in addition to the large structure. Sensory stimulation can be achieved on various swings, rockers and spinners as well. There is also a vine tunnel that will be grown in to provide tactile stimulation if touched."

Rudow said that a large pavilion was constructed to not only provide shade, but also as a rentable option for those wanting to host gatherings within the playground. "There are permanent, rounded benches that complement the landscape design throughout the area, especially in the sensory garden. The raised, concrete planter beds will also create seating. We put poured-in-place (surfacing) all through the playground equipment and a combination of concrete and paver bricks in the garden area." Rudow added that they visited other inclusive playgrounds in the area during the design phase, and they're hoping for a soft opening by summer 2021.

For those looking to make a new or existing space more inclusive, Moore suggests educating your community as best you can about the need for inclusive play. "If people aren't immersed in it all the time, they probably aren't thinking about it as much. But if we get in front of them with education and the 'why,' that's what attracts the passion to make these projects happen. You may attract more individuals to get involved and help with funding, outreach efforts or other project needs."

Back at Magical Bridge, Asher had similar advice. "Get buy-in from your city council, mayor or city manager. You need to have their support to move any project forward. Try and align with a nonprofit or philanthropist who can help with financial support. Continue to advocate to your city leadership that this is important!" RM