Bernard Family Playground

The Bernard Family Playground is located across from the eastern shore of the Harlem Meer, at 108th Street and Fifth Avenue. Like the East 110th Street Playground, it provides a strong visual connection to the Meer and surrounding landscapes, with broad views of the shoreline, the water, and the bluffs to the south. Trees and shrubs surround the playground, and a large ginkgo tree in its center provides shade.

Originally built between 1935 and 1936 as part of the perimeter playground system, the playground was reconstructed in 1991 as part of the comprehensive restoration of the Harlem Meer landscape. The smallest of the Park’s playgrounds, it comprises three interconnected ellipses that function as independent play areas. A sandbox and small composite play structure occupy the center play area. The northern section contains a standard water-spray feature; bucket swings occupy the southern area. Park benches line all three spaces.

Bernard Playground offers opportunities for young children to engage in physical, manipulative, and sensory play. Most children who use the playground are between ages two and five. Because the playground is so small, children tend to interact with all of the equipment. Its manageable size is conducive to the needs of small children and their caregivers. Most of the playground’s users cite proximity to home and environmental qualities as their reason for choosing to visit. The playground’s defining feature is its relationship to the landscape. Its small size, undulating edge, and abundant plantings blur the line between playground and landscape, resulting in an experience that is at once intimate and expansive.

Design Goals and Opportunities

The playground’s location within a narrow stretch of landscape between the Meer and the Park’s stone perimeter wall lends itself to smaller play spaces for younger children, and user surveys and observation indicate that Bernard primarily serves preschoolers. Maintaining a focus on this age group and the general spatial configuration that exists currently, improvements to the playground will aim to further enhance its connection to the Meer and surrounding landscape while increasing opportunities for sensory, manipulative, and physical play.