Related Planning Considerations

Maintenance (images 23–24)

Playgrounds encompass a range of features, materials, and infrastructure with widely varying maintenance requirements and life cycles, and their use is among the most concentrated in the Park. Consequently, they present specific maintenance challenges. A coordinated combination of routine maintenance and planned cyclical work is necessary to keep them safe, attractive, and in good repair. Routine maintenance typically involves cleaning, raking and replenishing sand, maintaining required depths of loose safety surfacing, repair of damaged or non-functioning equipment and infrastructure, and horticultural maintenance; planned cyclical work includes replacing safety surfacing, updating equipment, and repainting site furnishings. Addressing the playgrounds as a system and raising each of them to the same standard at the same time will establish a consistent baseline for the program of maintaining and improving them in the future. Documentation of the work completed through this effort will serve as the basis for defining a comprehensive regimen of routine maintenance and cyclical work for the Park’s system of playgrounds.

Programming (images 25–27)

In 1872, Park Commissioners created a handbill entitled “To Those Having the Care of Young Children.” The handbill describes the Park’s offerings for children and provides directions to these amenities by public transportation and within the Park itself. This early example of Park promotion reveals the emphasis placed on including, and advertising, amenities for children. This remains true today. Playgrounds provide only a small part of the Park experience for children; they do not represent the full value of what the Park offers. Improving the physical and visual connection between the playgrounds and the surrounding landscape is one way to cultivate young visitors’ relationship to the Park. Programming and outreach to encourage exploration of the broader Park and its use as the “rural play-ground” envisioned by its founders is equally important.

Restrooms (images 28–29)

The demand for restrooms poses significant challenges. Chief among them, given the Park’s primary purpose and its landmarked status as a scenic retreat from the city, is the prospect of adding new buildings and their effect on the landscape. Infrastructural requirements pose another significant consideration: Installing the required utilities to a site can significantly cut into, or even eclipse, budgets for playground reconstructions.

Providing restrooms in connection with playgrounds, despite the arguments in favor of doing so, also raises specific issues of security and conflicting use patterns. Playgrounds serve the very specific function of providing space for children separate from the general park population. As an amenity in demand throughout the Park, restrooms attract general park users and traffic unrelated to playground use; this makes it difficult to enforce Parks Department rules that require adults in playgrounds to be accompanied by a child. Recent reconstructions of existing restrooms in Heckscher and Ancient Playgrounds have addressed this issue by reconfiguring the building interiors and creating separate entrances accessible from the playground or a public side of the building, but this is not always possible or practical.

For these reasons, the need for restrooms is most appropriately addressed as a broader park planning issue, rather than specifically in connection with playgrounds. While the demand associated with playgrounds is a central consideration of that analysis, opportunities to provide restrooms in connection with existing structures, where they can be supported by existing infrastructure, are generally preferable. This lowers their cost and impact on the landscape, better serves the park population as a whole, and promotes a connection between the playgrounds and surrounding landscape that would be diminished by the addition of playground buildings.