Thursday, August 21, 2008

Playground Despair and Possible but Slow Solutions

The final days of summer (aka countdown to school) are upon us. Patience with the problems summer brings to local parks (in addition to the joys!) is running dry. As happens every year, those who have younger children have had to adjust their use of playgrounds during the summer due to several camps and day-care facilities using the playground as a daily destination and the influx of school-age children sharing the playground with the barely-walking set. Dodging water-balloons (sold by vendors in the playground who rarely seem to get tickets), yanking toddlers out of scooter and bike "paths" that magically appear in the playground, and sometimes intentionally getting in the way of tweens and teens who, despite being asked nicely to watch for the babies, storm the slides and bridges on the equipment (passive aggressive? who me?) are all part of the fun of summer at the Sunset Park playground.

However, shared stories about the heat from Sunset Park's black playground mats burning children's appendages, poop in the playground, and the reality of the overcrowding in the Sunset Park playground have caused some Sunset Park Parents to feel like nothing can be done to improve the playground conditions.

One parent wrote about what led her to the edge of despair:

...The truth is fixing our park feels like a Sisyphean task. I went to the park last Tuesday at 7 PM. The playground was teeming with kids. Truly over-run. And of course the equipment was the mangled, dirty mess it always is. There was litter everywhere and a vendor set up selling plastic crap inside the playground. Some father whose kid was playing on the same structure as mine literally left his garbage (they'd been eating potato chips) on the playground equipment as he left. Meanwhile over at the water fountain kids were filling water balloons, exploding [them] on the ground and then leaving the detritus. So I despaired. There's garbage all over our park. In part it's because of the respect many of the people who use it show and the utter laziness of the grounds crew who seem to spend their time blowing the garbage around. But it's also because our park is so overcrowded and overused. And it's because the city government really seems to neglect our neighborhood. These things, this week, just felt impossible to overcome to me. *

* used with the author's permission

While some of the issues she brings up don't seem overly offensive on their own, those of us who have been attending the playground regularly - and who have been trying to make small improvements (confronting bicyclists of all ages, closing the gates when entering/exiting, asking elderly groups of men to please take their smoking elsewhere, grabbing children away from broken glass, steering curious children away from the rice and milk vomit recently deposited by a toddler, and so on and so on) can easily understand why the despair would be brought on by the myriad of "smaller" items mentioned above.

So, what CAN be done? Other parents in the area responded with support and ideas.

Suggestions range from contacting Sara Gonzalez (whose email is:, calling 311 until results are seen, contacting Fox News or CBS2 (hoping for a "Shame, shame, shame" or "Shame on You" story), or getting 7 on Your Side.

However, the day to day efforts are probably just as effective. It's exhausting and demoralizing to "do the right thing" all the time. I certainly don't manage to do it. However, if enough people pick up, call 311, close the gates, confront smokers, ask bike riders to take it to the paths, and so on, it will make a difference eventually.

I kind of like the idea of a television segment, however. More flashy, more immediate, and more dramatic.

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