Friday, November 4, 2011

Jerusalem Playground Reviews -- Agenda and Parameters

Two main objectives motivate my effort to review Jerusalem playgrounds:

1) To provide parents and others with information about parks and playgrounds in Jerusalem -- information that might be hard to come by in the course of their day-to-day activities.

* With regard to local residents, the idea is to offer a glimpse of play areas throughout the city. People naturally tend to stick with what they know, with what is closest to home. But sometimes the answer to a need lies a bit farther afield. And sometimes a perfectly worthwhile solution is closer to home than one might think.

* With regard to tourists, I thought it might be a good idea to offer information about more "heimish" or local-color playgrounds -- places that can be used as bases for exploring different neighborhoods on foot.

2) Grandiose as it might seem, I hope to exert an influence on those involved in planning Jerusalem parks and playgrounds. Probably the main reason that I have come to explore playgrounds outside of my home neighborhood over last dozen years or so is the erosion (as I see it) of traditional standards of playground design. A failure to provide for shade (not just in immediate terms, but in the long term as well); a lack of concern for how parks/playgrounds interact with the neighborhood as a whole (isolated locations, distance from shopping, services, etc.); a disregard of visibility issues (e.g., hiding play areas behind high walls); an inappropriate separation of shrubbery and trees from playground users ... these and other issues have frustrated me over the years as I have transported my children to play areas around Jerusalem in search of shade, contact with nature, and stimulating encounters with urban life.

Review Parameters

Parameters include:

Location (street and neighborhood)
Shade -- IMHO, the single most important factor in determining a playground's usability during daytime hours, and one that the Jerusalem Municipality has consistently ignored in the design of its newer playgrounds.
Play equipment -- In general, Jerusalem playgrounds are rather poorly equipped by Western standards. There is little creativity and much repetitiveness. In my home neighborhood, playgrounds within a block or two of each other have virtually the same slide/tunnel structures, spring toys, etc. Even the playgrounds which I have reviewed most enthusiastically are not those with the fanciest equipment -- but I'm not sure that's such a terrible thing. One point that I try to underscore throughout these reviews is the importance of a playground's location, overall layout, multiple-use status, and interaction with the surrounding environment. Children don't need the most expensive toys available on the market -- they need environments that are stimulating.
Age suitability
Snack factor -- Although I, like many other mothers, try to bring healthy snacks or even meals (depending on the time of day) along on park outings, there are certain summer mainstays, such as ice creams and ices, that are often inconvenient to pack and schlep. Sometimes you forget stuff. Sometimes you just want to fly out the door and not pack anything. A small grocery or kiosk near the park can be a lifesaver. It can also bring more human traffic to the park, and make it a more sociable place.
Schmooze factor -- Both children and their adult escorts benefit from human interaction. Sometimes it can be pleasant to have a park/playground to yourself, but usually you want to see people.
Multiple uses within the park -- A playground with just one item of play equipment, or a number of items that are suited to a specific age range, will obviously be of limited use. Likewise, a space that contains some play equipment but offers no access to nature and no areas to explore, will not be too attractive to children or adults. Multiple uses give parks the ability to be different things to different users, or different things to the same user on different occasions.
Beyond the park -- Items of interest to parents and children that are within an easy walking distance from the park. Parks and playgrounds that are isolated from commercial and other land uses are less valuable than they might otherwise be -- however fancy the equipment in them.

No comments: