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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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.

It’s All Sweetness and Light, Until Mother Overreacts

Another innocent bystander!

There was an article in the New York Times yesterday that got me thinking.  Times columnist Susan Dominus had taken her 3 year old twins to the Ancient Playground in Central Park, and as they were enjoying the winter wonderland, a snowball fight broke with some of the older children. Ms. Dominus was struck by a snowball, was inscensed and demanded to know who the guilty culprits were.  The tweens were ratted out, and she proceeded to berate the children’s babysitter, who eventually left the playground in shame with angry children in tow, and Ms. Dominus was left to wonder if she was a spoil-sport or the last responsible parent.

Commenters on the article were torn between “kid-will-be-kids” and “you go mom,” with a number of digs at Susan’s multiple name drops of Dean & DeLuca that screamed elitist.

As a tween I’d been involved in my share of snowball melees, but this was in the genteel suburbs, not the hard scrabble mean streets between the gang den called The Metropolitan Museum of Art and thug training ground known as Marymount Prepatory School for Girls.

But it did raise the question of how do you handle the inevitable age conflicts at the playground?  With the exception of tot lots, playgrounds are there for kids 2-12, all running pell mell. My 2 1/2 year old son often wants to play with the older kids, and I find myself torn in letting him have fun, and pulling him out of harms way.  I tend to have a philosophy that he’ll learn his limitations quicker from a knock on his keaster than he would with from his dad explaining that he’s too small to play with the big kids. Of course this means occasionally plucking him out when he’s in over his head, but I think he learns from that as well.

As far as other kids behavior is concerned, unless a child is being overtly aggressive, I try not to get involved; I may be on squirrel patrol, but I’m not the playground police.