Imagination Playground Imagines Itself More Than It Is

"Playground of the Future?"

"Playground of the Past (But Just as much fun)"

I finally got a chance to check out the much raved about Imagination Playground at the South Street Seaport.  I’d read so much praise about architect David Rockwell’s “revolutionary” playground in the NY Times  and the New Yorker.   That, along with a $7 million price tag, had me having very high expectations.

It is supposed to be “a breakthrough playspace concept designed to encourage child-directed, unstructured free play,” which is a  pretentious way to describe a sandbox, sprinklers and some blocks.

The idea is that children play with the “loose parts” (big foam blocks) in conjunction with the water and sand, and watch their creative minds go!

Apparently no one told this concept to the “playground supervisor” during our visit.  First, he was so concerned about getting sand in the water area, that he spent 45 minutes warning all the parents to not let their children bring sand to the sprinklers, otherwise he’d have to turn the water off. Then, when kids brought the blocks to the sand box or the water, he would quickly bring them back to the “block area” in the middle.  That, along with the scolding he gave any children climbing on the sprinklers, really made the lofty ideals of the Imagination Playground seem ridiculous. (Note to administrators, OCD-types should not work with children.)

Nate did enjoy playing in sprinkler, and sand and with the blocks, as did most of the other children.  But later that day we stopped by the Bleecker Playground with its traditional playground sprinkler, sandbox and assorted cast-off toys, and he just as much fun.  Not sure how much his brain grew, but at least I didn’t have to listen to a treatise of the sprinkler’s drain system and the havoc sand can cause.

And neither of these hold a candle to the Pier 6 Brooklyn Bridge Park playground, the Xanadu of playgrounds!


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Brooklyn Brood at Brooklyn Bowl

I would never call myself an athlete, but I have played in organized football, basketball, baseball and lacrosse; and I’m not exactly an extreme sports enthusiast, but I’ve gone rock climbing, skiing, and mountain biking.  Which is why it surprises me that I received a wound that will surely be my biggest scar this weekend… while bowling!

We went to Brooklyn Bowl on Saturday, the rock club cum bowling alley is open to all ages noon to 6 on weekends.  And while it isn’t necessarily “child friendly,” I found it to be a great place to take my my 3 1/2 year old son.  With bumper bowing, children’s movies on the TVs, and a very friendly staff, on top of excellent food by Blue Ribbon and a full bar, it makes for a nice afternoon.  Don’t expect to find changing tables or high chairs; this is a Williamsburg rock club after all, not Chuck E Cheese.  But the menu has plenty to offer the discriminating toddler, including excellent fried chicken, and stellar mac and cheese.  In addition to the very comfortable couches and tables behind the lanes, there are picnic tables and a wide open space for kids to run around, while that night’s band loads in on the adjacent stage.  My only complaint would be the price, $25/half-hour per lane adds up fast, especially when your child’s bowling ball takes over a minute to finally make it to the pins.

I think some of the fried chicken may have gotten on the soles of my shoes, because after eating between the 8th and 9th frames, I completely fell on my face forward on my delivery, with my knee breaking my fall.  I threw a gutter ball, then unbelievably I picked up the spare.  I them inspected my throbbing knee, and saw the skin had been pulled away from a two inch square on my knee.  A small price to pay for a lovely afternoon, and to see Nate have this much fun:

Unispheres, Rockets, and Dosa! Oh My!

Behold the Unisphere!

Maybe it’s because of its name, but Flushing Queens is one of the more underrated destinations in New York’s outer-boroughs. Aside from seeing the Mets lose play, most non-Queens residents don’t visit often. I’ve explored Fran Drescher’s neighborhood a couple of times in the past, but Juliet and I decided to take Nate for a short visit to this Queens ‘hood this weekend, and had a great time.

We drove to Flushing Meadows Corona Park and easily found parking. It is a huge park (more than 50% larger than Central Park), with a lots of soccer, softball, and cricket games going on. Although it isn’t the most kempt park, there was a good amount of litter, some of the landscaping is quite beautiful.

Rocket Park

But the real reason to go is the remnants of the World’s Fairs held here in 1939 and 1964. Having already visited Philip Johnson’s “Tent of Tomorrow” ruins and the Queen’s Museum on our last trip, we decided to hit the Unisphere and the Hall of Science.

When we saw the Unisphere, with the fountains going, Nate said, “Ooooooh, dats awsome.” I concured.

After that we walked over to the New York Hall of Science, a children’s science museum, but I wasn’t sure how a three year old would react. He loved it! I’m pretty sure Nate didn’t get the science behind it, but there was enough spinning and interactive exhibits to hold a toddler’s attention for 2 hours. The museum actually has an area dedicated to pre-schoolers, but Nate was particularly intrigued with the display demonstrating Kepler’s laws of planetary motion (balls spinning down a funnel.) Although he was very upset you couldn’t go in the rockets at Rocket Park.

Nate Observing Kepler's Laws

My only beef with the museum is that they nickle and dime you. Admission is $11 for adults and $8 for children, but then it is additional fees for the Science Playground, lunar mini-golf, space ship simulator, and even a crafts fee in the pre-school area. Nevertheless, it is a great visit for kids and adults.

We were getting hungry, and museum cafeteria fare was not on our agenda. We drove deep into Flushing, and made a little trans Asian journey, through Koreatown, Chinatown, and into the less known Indian section of Flushing.

My wife is a vegetarian, and I’m always looking for interesting restaurants, and I heard about Dosa Hutt, a south Indian restaurant right next to the Hindu Temple. Dosa Hutt is not much to look at, but they do make excellent dosa.

After loading up on dosa, Ras malai, and mango lassi, I considered getting some lemon ice from Benfaremo, The Lemon Ice King of Corona, but the fountains, rockets, and curried lentils had caught up with Nate, and he was passed out in the back seat.

Just as well, as it gives us another reason to come back to this misunderstood neighborhood.

A Couple of Brooklyn Roulette Lunches

I rolled the dice twice on Brooklyn eats this weekend, and threw 2 sevens.

On Saturday we went to Jabcob Riis Beach, beautiful weather, warm water. Then before the beach got too crowded, we went to Randazzo’s Clam Bar in Sheepshead Bay for lunch. Nate loved the waves, the cherry stone clams on the half-shell…not so much.

And then on Sunday we hit the Red Hook ball field vendors. Nate slept through lunch, which was good, because I would not have wanted to share my pork and cheese pupusas and shockingly pink curtido. I don’t know what makes it pink, but mmmmm boy, good stuff.

Raw clams, fried stuffed tortillas, and pink fermented cabbage, and not a single Tums all weekend.

The Best Playground in NYC: Pier 6

You think this is dangerous...

Pier 6 at the Brooklyn Bridge Park is probably the best playground in New York City, and is the best city project since the High Line!

We finally visited the playground this past weekend. I was reluctant to buy into the hype, as I was sorely disappointed by the playground at Pier 1 (aka the scalding spheres of doom!) But I was blown away by the scale and design of the Pier 6 playground. Nate made a beeline to “slide mountain” and the giant Tee-Pee slide, which reminded me of the rocket jungle gym I used to play at as a kid, (it was later deemed a huge risk to children.) The biggest problem I see with it is kids climbing up, and then afraid to go down the slide, and it is tight quarters for an adult to rescue a tyke. Nate scrambled up to the top like sherpa and after a little trepidation went down the slide, and loved it. It was only after I saw the sign “ages 5-9.” Nate will be 3 in August. There is also a long mountain slide and a crazy rope jungle gym.

now THIS was a dangerous slide from MY childhood!

The”The Water Lab” was next, which is a boulder strewn winding stream with sprinklers, sluice, and an Archimedes’ screw. It really is a small water park with a Myst-like quality. Really beautiful with lots of things for kids to play with, and lots of spots for parent to sit just far enough away not to get wet.

We hit “Sandbox Village” next, which claims “may well be the largest park sandbox in Brooklyn, if not New York City.” I might not be the biggest anymore, as we took a lot of the sand home with us sticking to Nate (I don’t recommend going to the sandbox after the water lab.) We were a little tired to take advantage of “Swing Valley” but it looked awesome as well, (although the name sounds a little too much like a sitcom about ’70’s wifeswapping.)

The response to the Pier 6 PG has been overwhelmingly positive, but that didn’t stop some people from complaining. Some object that the playground is for children only, while New York State Assembly candidate Doug Biviano thinks the playground is dangerous, and wants to round all the corners and edges (but probably just wants any attention for his campaign.)

My Tips:

Go early, as this place gets packed by noon on weekends

Watch the street crossing at Atlantic and the BQE (that crossing can be pretty hairy)

Bring swimwear for the kids (if you don’t let them in the water park they will go ballistic)

Don’t be paranoid about your DS or DD hurting themselves.  A child could just as easily get a skinned knee on the sidewalk running to get in the park as they could on one of the Biv’s ominous boulders.

This playground really is incredible, and with the current economy, I don’t think we’ll see anything like it for years. So enjoy now before they run out of money to keep it up, or some over-protective nervous nellies ruin it.

A Playground Grows in Brooklyn

UPDATE: New Pics on Gothamist!

A number of years ago, my wife and I looked at an apartment on Hicks St. in Brooklyn Heights, which we affectionately refer to as “The Rabbit Hutch,” very cute, and very small. Like most of Brooklyn Heights, it was still too expensive, but the real reason we rejected it was the lack of green space and parks in the area. If you live in a rabbit hutch, your going to have children, and they need parks.

I am now kicking myself like Thumper, as there now there seems to be an abundance of parks in the area. The latest, the yet to open Pier 6 Brooklyn Bridge Park, appears to have a jaw droppingly awesome playground. Brooklyn Paper got a preview of the on going construction, and the playground will include Slide Mountain, Swing Valley, and Sandbox Village. Hopefully they will skip the “Scalding Orbs Town” that they have at the pier one park.

It’s scheduled to open in June is supposed to also have a volleyball court, picnic area, and dining concessions from Ditch Plains Drop In, a Calexico Carne Asada truck, Blue Marble Ice Cream and Pier 66 Maritime, a wine bar, so parents can unwind while they await the paramedics to treat their child’s 3rd degree burns from the red-hot metal domes, and the broken clavicle from the 20 foot tee-pee slide fall.

I kid! The PG looks awesome, and I’m really looking forward to Nate putting it through its paces.

Look at an interactive map of all of  Brooklyn Bridge Park here, or check out the live camera of the construction of the pier one park, it may serve as a guide to the sure to be huge line at Blue Marble.

Circus Circus

I went to my first circus at Madison Square Garden when I was 6 years old. I still have vivid memories (Gunther Gebel-Williams, terrifying clowns, and awesome souvenir flashlights, which I was not allowed to get.) Last week took Nate to the Ringling Brothers Barnum and Bailey’s Circus at MSG. All in all, it was fun. Nate definitely enjoyed it, as did his parents and grandma!

Pre-show was fun. Up close to clowns and elephants. But it is really crowded, so I ended up carrying Nate the whole pre-show.

The theme “Funnundrum” seems really tacked on, as did the songs (Cirque du Soleil this is not.) But the spectacle of most of the performers was great!

The high-wire act was disappointing, and slow, especially for a toddler (or a 40 year old with an attention span of a 4 year old.) And the tiger tamer was lame.  I’m sure being in a cage with 10 tigers is something, but just making them occasionally stand on their hind legs, and not eat you…I’ll just say I was rooting for the tigers.

The trapeze artists were going for a quadruple sommersault…they missed…they missed the quad at my 1976 circus as well!!!

But the acrobats made up for everything. The “Asadullin Troupe” of acrobats dressed as pirates jumping from the “Russian Bar” was mesmerising. And the Trupe Fantasy teeter-board act were very exciting. The Barnum bouncers trampoline troupe was a surprising highlight, I kept trying to expain to Nate thet there were just like Q-Bert! I’m not sure why a 2 1/2 year old would get a Q-Bet refference.

Clowns were nothing to write home about, but they weren’t nightmare inducing, so I chalk that up as a win.

Torres Family Motorcycles spinning in steel sphere with black lights- psychedelicly- awesome!

Johnathan Lee Iverson was a good ringmaster, but did we really need a “little person” sidekick? Really?

But what did Nate like the best? The flashlight that his grandmother bought him!

It broke as soon as we got home. But to their credit, they claimed it had a 2 year warranty, and I called them on it and called their 800 number. 2 weeks later, we got a new flashlight!