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News 2010

News 2010

From the July - August 2010 Newsletter:

Making cheap playgrounds expensive

In the July 5 issue of the New Yorker magazine, writer Rebecca Mead reports on a new playground in New York City (at Burling Slip at the South Street Seaport), called the “Imagination Playground,” scheduled to open sometime this summer. It will have many molded-foam “loose parts,” designed by the playground’s architect and marketed by Kaboom, a booster of manufactured playgrounds everywhere. It will also have some tires and wheelbarrows, plastic crates, scaffolding for kids to build blanket houses, and sand and water for the kids to make dams. (Sound familiar?)

The New York Imagination Playground costs more than seven million dollars. Architect Frank Gehry is designing another new-style playground at New York’s Battery Park. Yet another novel architect-designed playground in the city’s Union Square has been “almost cripplingly well-attended” – i.e. it’s way too crowded.

No wonder. The colourful plastic fitness-based playgrounds that were installed across North America, during the last decade’s “safety standards” explosion, are low-maintenance, but they’re also low-usage – kids don’t seem to stay interested in them for very long. But if adventure playgrounds with sand and water and a little stash of building materials carry a price tag of millions of dollars, such playgrounds will be very scarce, and the ones that exist will be mobbed.

But what about the sand-and-water-and-logs-and-shovels (“loose parts”) playground at Dufferin Grove?

The sandpit area at Dufferin Grove Park cost $4000 to install in 1993. Even that was a notional fee, since the hole for gravel and sand was dug by a staff backhoe operator, and the big tree trunks that formed the first border were brought over by a Forestry truck, instead of going to landfill. Water comes from a hose connected to an existing park water outlet and the recreation staff buy the shovels for digging at Wal-mart, with cookie money earned at the playground’s cob café. (Over the last 17 years, the real metal-not-plastic shovels at the sandpit have caused far fewer injuries than the monkey bars in the playground – but both monkey bars and real tools are good for kids).

The Dufferin Grove sandpit can get very crowded, since despite its simplicity it’s also a scarce resource. There’s only one other similar sandpit in the city (at Trinity-Bellwoods), and it’s used by a camp in the summer. So far, the City has not agreed to requests from other neighbourhoods for a similar sand-and-water playground. As the crowds of kids have increased at Dufferin Grove, these little dam-engineers and tipi builders have expanded their field of operations, so that a much larger section of the playground is now given over to making rivers and dams, play-forts and sand landscapes.

Maintenance used to be very simple. Twice a summer, Parks staff backhoe driver Mark Cullen would come to the park very early (6 a.m.) and plough the sand back into the original sandpit, plus adding one new truckload. One Dufferin Grove staff person was there to help direct the re-shaping. By 9 a.m. the first kids arriving would have a wonderful sand mountain to work with.

This year, the maintenance plans were a bit more ambitious. The idea was to deal with the pooling of water near the edge of the park by creating a dry well for better drainage. But even the part of this year’s job that merely involved replacement of the sand was far more complicated than in other years. Instead of one City staff person, there were 5 or 6 at a time.

Instead of taking 3 hours, the sand leveling took up the better part of two days. A construction fence was erected around the sandpit, to do a job that was no more complicated than what snowploughs do on city streets after a snowstorm, without construction fences. For the first time this year, Parks maintenance staff felt that sand replacement constitutes a “construction site” according to the Ministry of Labour. Recreation staff were required to wear hard hats and safety boots even when the backhoe was not working, just to enter the sand-play area.

All this complication adds to the cost and makes cheap playgrounds more expensive, contributing to an unnecessary scarcity of fun. It needs rethinking. But happily, we’re still a long way from New York City’s $7 million “Imagination Playground.”

From the July - August 2010 Newsletter:


The wading pool is open seven days a week all summer except during stormy weather, from 11 a.m. until 6 pm (with extended hours on days over 29 degrees Celsius). Park staff Michael Monastyrskyj has posted archival photos and old newspaper clippings of the ground-breaking for the original wading pool in 1954 (on the wading pool shed bulletin board). It was called the “Abe Orpen Memorial Wading Pool,” in honour of the original owner of the Dufferin Park Race Track, whose family donated the money to build it.

That track, located where the Dufferin Mall is now, drew people from all over Toronto. Betting on horses was a big part of the local economy.

There has been concern that the new wading pool surface (put in last year) is slippery. The surface was power-washed before the season began, and children are welcome to wear swim slippers or plastic sandals if parents find that it helps them keep their footing better. Wading pool staff are keeping a log of kids who slip and fall – if it still seems excessive, the City will paint the surface next year, with a paint-sand mix to increase traction.

Wading pool rules call for a swim diaper for children who are not toilet-trained (for sale by staff), no water guns, and parents right beside the child if a float-toy (e.g. a water ring) is used. The playground is supplied with plastic toy boats and buckets – any other toy donations are welcome!

From the June 2010 Newsletter:


The surface of the wading pool was coated with a cement/plastic layer last spring, as part of a renovation. Although it looks nice, parents quickly noticed that it was slippery, and many kids were falling. This spring there are long cracks in the coating, and at the beginning it was even more slippery than last year. The recreation staff scrubbed it down with concentrated chlorine, and that helped. On Friday June 11, city staff will meet at the playground to consider additional remedies.

From the April 2010 Newsletter:


Last July, park friend Max Wallace offered to donate an accessible swing suitable for older children who need additional support. But instead, the swing was put in by the City, in November. As soon as the weather warmed up in April, the line-ups began – all the kids want to go on that swing! Hopefully it will also draw in kids who need it, and the news of its existence will get around. Park friends, please put the word out in the community: the swing is here, and so is some extra support for special–needs children and their tired parents. The same goes for summer work: special-needs youth, the park needs your talents! If you or a family member are in that situation, call the park at 416 392-0913 and talk to Mayssan.

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