Monday, July 16, 2012

Brander Park and Gardens, City Center -- a Jerusalem Playground Review

I recently had the pleasure of visiting a renovated playground in the city center -- the "revitalized downtown Jerusalem" that I sometimes mock in a spirit of contrarianism. This wonderful new playground definitely creates an incentive (which I previously found lacking) to go downtown with the kids ...
Name: Brander Park and Gardens
There is a plaque identifying the park's donors as  Dr. Jerome and Mrs. Frances Brander of Atlantic City. On maps, however, the area seems to be called Meir Sherman Garden. When the conundrum has been resolved, Gd willing, I will update.

Location: King George Street, downtown Jerusalem (adjacent to Independence Park).

Transit: Egged lines 4, 4A, 7, 7A, 8, 8A, 9, 9A, 17, 17A, 19, 19A, 21, 21A, 31, 031, 32, 032, 38, 74, 75.
Shade: There's plenty of shade in this park, making it quite usable at all hours of the day, even when the sun is at its harshest. In addition to the many trees scattered throughout, some of them quite old and venerable ...

... there is the welcome addition of a large artificial shade structure covering a selection of attractive, new-style "dynamic" play equipment.

Obviously these shade structures cost money and one can't expect that every corner of a playground will be encompassed by them. Still, it's kind of a shame that this line of cool and varied swings is so entirely exposed to the sun -- I doubt one can use them comfortably after about 9:00 a.m.:

All in all, though, this is a well-shaded playground/park, where at least half of the play equipment is sufficiently shaded for mid-day use, and where comfortable picnic spots can always be found:

Play equipment and features:

Play equipment seems to have its own fashion trends, which wax and wane. A few years ago every new playground in these parts featured a climbing/slide structure with tunnels and turrets, a kind of all-in-one facility around which the entire play area revolved -- like the department store on which a mall is "anchored."

Over the last couple of years, however, things seem to have evolved. My first inkling of the changing times came on a family trip to Zichron Yaacov two summers ago, where we were enchanted by what seemed to us a wonderfully original playground full of strange kinetic-dynamic-futuristic play structures of a kind we had never seen before.

Now these structures are popping up here in Jerusalem as well. The novelty hasn't worn off yet -- maybe it never will:

As noted above, an entire section of the playground is devoted to the swing concept in a variety of ultramodern incarnations. The swings are attractive and fun -- for older children; none is suited to a toddler, unless she's in someone's lap ...

There's a separate toddler play area with some nice features, including this sleek bouncy snake:

The train structure is very attractive, but was in full sun and hot to the touch at around 10:30-11:00 a.m. when we were there:

Other notable features and amenities:

-- Bicycle racks

-- There's a regular water fountain near the toddler play area, and a more "advanced" one off the older-child area -- the water is chilled, and the fountain has a bottle-filling installation:

-- Rarity of all rarities in Jerusalem playgrounds: a restroom. My son tried to get in but couldn't figure out how. I have no idea whether it works, is cleaned/maintained, etc. Nor do I want to be the one who checks this out. Perhaps an intrepid reader will care to update me on this, for the benefit of the wider public ...

-- Brander Park leads directly into the larger, open green space of Jerusalem's well-known Independence Park, an area suitable for picnics, ball-related activities, gatherings, etc. Independence Park has no play facilities per se and I never thought of it as a full-service attraction in and of itself for kids, but nowadays it makes a nice, relaxing side-trip when everyone has tired themselves out on Brander Park's exciting play equipment. Of particular interest is the man-made water feature -- small pools and streams, mainly in shade, that attract kids like flies and offer adults a cool and refreshing interlude amid the downtown bustle:

But don't bring your bathing suit, or drink the water. It might embalm you:

Age range: Toddler through adult:

Snack factor: Many restaurants, cafes, bakeries and convenience stores a short walk away on Jaffa Rd. and along the Ben Yehuda pedestrian mall; a kiosk selling ice creams/ices, snacks and cold drinks (as well as less child-oriented items such as lottery tickets and cigarettes) is located at the park's Meir Shaham St. entrance.

Schmooze factor: This is not the kind of playground you go to in order to meet up with a regular crowd of neighborhood moms and childminders -- a valuable feature of certain other playgrounds that I have reviewed.. Brander Park is downtown, so it gets a more transient and varied clientele, and that is its strong point and brand differentiation. One sees locals of all stripes, tourists, plenty of dog-walkers, etc.

Seating: Seating has been handled thoughtfully and generously throughout the park, whether in the form of wooden benches (a fair number in shady spots), a circular stone bench surrounding the main play area, or stone tree and shrubbery platforms that do double duty as seating:

Multiple uses within the park: Brander Park certainly has much to offer within its borders, especially if those borders are extended to include Independence Park. It has several play areas (suited to different age groups) that are distinct and intimate yet flow gracefully into each other; lawns for kicking a ball around, picnicking, etc.; steps and platforms that beckon young children to climb on them; the babbling brook of Independence Park; areas of noisy togetherness and spots of repose. You won't be bored here.

Beyond the park: Self-evident, considering the downtown location. In the immediate vicinity, on King George Street, are certain tourist-itenerary items such as Yeshurun Central Synagogue, the Great Synagogue and Heichal Shlomo.

Prior to the renovation, I never considered this playground to be anything that I would travel out of my south Jerusalem comfort zone for. In general, I always regarded downtown as rather child-unfriendly and resented the lack of a worthwhile play area there. I never could bring myself to run errands in the city center with kids in tow. I've hardly been downtown at all these last few years, as most of my needs can be met closer to home (i.e., in Talpiot); in fact my unexpected recent forays there were occasioned by nothing less than the necessity of getting my three year old vaccinated against rabies at the Health Ministry facility at 86 Jaffa Rd. I dreaded the trip downtown with her, thinking that Brander Park, as I remembered it (a rickety old merry-go-round?), would not compensate her adequately for the innoculation experience. In the end I was pleasantly surprised on all counts: the rabies prevention unit is run efficiently and located in a beautiful old building that is worth visiting on its own merits; the little one was enthralled by the shop windows of Jaffa Rd. and the passing trains; and I discovered the Brander Park renovation.

I'm not naive. I know the Jerusalem Municipality didn't have lowly residents like me in mind when it decided to renovate this playground, but rather the tourist population. Yet this is one instance where the locals truly enjoy a collateral benefit. "Mixed-use" has become a catchword of the downtown Jerusalem revitalization scene, but it appears to refer mainly to a mix of commercial, office and hotel/residential space in new high-rises slated for construction. Yet by creating a truly fun place for children in the city center, the planning echelon has done much to enhance downtown Jerusalem's mixed-use status -- without having to reach skyward.


P. Almonius said...

That bathroom and others like it, one outside the Italian Jewish Museum and another in Kikar Beit Hadfus, maybe there are more that I haven't run into yet, have been around for a while, but rarely work. In Israel we excel in building things and letting them go to ruin. Except when we fail to build things in the first place, go around new neighborhoods and see all the public space that is growing nothing but weeds.

Julie@walkablejlm said...

P. Almonius,I live in one of those new neighborhoods with public space growing nothing but weeds, so I know what you're talking about.

Regarding the tendency to build things and let them go to ruin, I think one of the problems is that we plan projects that are too large in scale, too grandiose, and too detached from, or discordant with, the urban fabric (two projects that come mind are Mercaz Klal and the Malha Technology Park). As a nation, we need to develop a culture of human-scaled placemaking, rather than hypertrophic projects that seem intended to copy the worst of what is being done abroad. I guess that is somewhat off the topic of public restrooms, though.

hmwise said...

According to Jerry Brander (donner of the park) there are actually two parks. Meir Sherman Garden is actually along King George Street and has a sculpture that is visible from the street. Brander Park is in back of the Garden.

Jerry also told be that the reason there's two dates on the plack that dedicates the park is because half was built in 1996 and the other half was built in 2000.

He also chose this location because it's the center of town.