When my older children were small, I often took them to playgrounds outside of our neighborhood, which was then (and is still, 9 years later) under development and, consequently, lacking in shade -- the main factor determining a playground's usability between 9:00 am and 4:00 pm. During the long summers when my three "musketeers" were babies, toddlers and preschoolers, it seemed I was always chasing after shade. I developed a certain expertise regarding the green spaces of central and southern Jerusalem -- could tell you, for any given park, which corners and what play equipment remained tolerable at what hours.
A few years went by. The musketeers turned into schoolboys, and playground outings became a thing of the past. I moved on -- into middle age, a more substantial work schedule out of the home, a new routine ... until little "Midlife Surprise" made her appearance.
Returning to young motherhood in one's mid-forties, after a longish hiatus, is an interesting phenomenon in and of itself; were I more of a mommy blogger I would write about it in depth -- well, maybe someday I will. Within the context of this urbanist blog, however, I will simply point out that the intervening years, my advancing age, and the fact that I have been dealing this time around with only one baby/toddler, have all helped to make me more reflective than I was in the past about the environments in which my childrearing activities are taking place. Whether that translates into more effective parenting, only time will tell. But it does unquestionably translate into an impulse to analyze the surroundings in which I spend time with my young daughter.
In the musketeer days I would just pile the crew into the Mom-mobile and take off for someplace shady, without subjecting my destination decisions to any particular analysis. Whereas now the playground outings are informed by a spirit of reminiscence and of comparison at several years' remove -- a state of mind in which attention can be paid to the disparate elements that make up one's surroundings. Moreover, having spent most of the last decade coping with the problems posed by defective neighborhood design, I've acquired a conceptual framework for analyzing the public spaces that I and my little one frequent.
The foregoing is by way of introduction to a series that I wish to present on parks and playgrounds in Jerusalem. I will, G-d willing, be taking a close look at what makes these places "tick" (or not). I hope that the series will be useful to mothers and others looking for good places in Jerusalem in which to spend time with (or without) children.
The series will discuss/rate playgrounds based on a number of set criteria. Some of these criteria will be self-evident and technical, e.g., level of shade, quality of play equipment. Other criteria will be informed by a New Urbanist sensibility. In particular, I will be looking at the mixed-use features of parks and playgrounds -- both vis-à-vis their surrounding areas, and vis-à-vis themselves. That is to say, I will discuss the degree to which a given park is accessible to, or isolated from, other land uses such as commercial activities, schools, public/municipal services, and other attractions that a parent might want to know about. I will also discuss the degree to which a given park's design facilitates diverse uses within it, e.g. play equipment for different age groups, picnic areas, lawns, shrubbery, paths for bicycling/tricycling, etc.