Safari Playground

Safari Playground is located on a hill, with sweeping views of the Reservoir. The surrounding slopes, which are densely planted, help to integrate the playground with the Park and buffer it from the buildings and traffic of Central Park West. The playground encompasses two large trees that cast ample shade.

The playground was originally built between 1935 and 1936 as part of the perimeter playground system. Rebuilt in 1997 as Safari Playground, it is the only Park playground that does not contain any traditional play equipment such as slides, swings, and sandboxes. Instead, the playground features hippopotamus sculptures set within a river of safety surfacing in a pattern evocative of flowing water. Boulders incorporated in the river and a lone canoe contribute to the safari theme. A water-spray feature animates the scene and provides more opportunities for play during warm months. One of the hippos also originally functioned as a water feature, but the mechanism no longer works. The only other play elements are two tree house structures consisting of elevated wooden platforms built around large trees.

The playground is geared towards children between the ages of two and five. The hippo sculptures provide opportunities for exploration and physical and imaginative play. Children climb on, under, and even inside the sculptures; they also climb on rocks and in the canoe. They enjoy watching each other interact with the sculptures. The two tree houses provide a vantage point for viewing the playground as well as the Park beyond, although younger children find them somewhat difficult to climb. Because the playground contains a large amount of open space, it often accommodates school groups and family gatherings, contributing to its strong social aspect; this is the reason many regular users choose the playground.

Design Goals and Opportunities

This is a popular playground with a well-established and well-liked theme. The 1997 renovation, which introduced the hippos and safari theme, was limited in scope and did not address the infrastructure that supports the use, operation, and maintenance of the playground. In addition to providing for more sustainable operation of the site, updated infrastructure would support more innovative use of water in the design, increasing the potential for interactive and manipulative play. The playground’s connection to the Park will be enhanced by restoring the landscape, augmenting the plantings surrounding the playground, and highlighting views of the Reservoir.