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Community playgrounds – safe environments for play

Interactive play is proven to be extremely important for the development of cognition, motor skills, and learning in the first five years of life. Outdoor play is one of the things that characterize childhood. However, in dense urban and particularly in low-income areas, finding safe open space where parents can walk with their babies, or where kids can run around can be a challenge. This idea aims to build a system of community built and supported playgrounds that create platforms for early childhood development and community gathering for families.

Photo of Susanna Burrows
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In order to ensure that children thrive in their first 5 years, parents in low-income communities can advocate for, build and support community playgrounds. Community supported playgrounds can help create safe environments for families and children to come together, play and express themselves. These playgrounds would not only provide the space for young’uns to play and learn, but they would bring communities together, creating stronger and safer environments for children to grow.
 
Below is a set of steps that could be used to build a community playground. These steps could become a tool-kit for anyone who feels like their community is lacking a place for children to play. 

Build a network – In order for this to work best, the community playground program needs to be initiated, supported and run by the local community. Organize a meeting of interested people. Who wants to be the team leader? Who in the neighborhood has children–surely they would want to get involved–reach out to them. What if you don’t have much free time between work and parenting? Reach out to your neighbors and tell them how important it is to you and see if they are willing to help. Hand out flyers, knock on doors, generate support and self-organize. The process would be just like setting up a community garden

Locate site – This may be the toughest part of the process. Land is valuable and finding space that is open for public use is a rare find. Start by mapping all of the open space in the area and identify owners. Walk around the neighborhood and visit city hall to see is there is any publicly owned vacant land nearby. Are there schools that would be willing to provide the space? Once you find a site, see if you can organize a lease.

Crowdsource funds – How are you going to pay for this? It can be daunting, especially when you don't know where the money is going to come from. But crowdsourcing and fundraising can be fun. Get everyone together and gather their social networking and fundraising skills to raise money to finance the development of the park. Make realistic goals and show funders exactly where their money is going. For example, see if someone is willing to donate $150 for a picnic table or $40 for a set of tools. Break the finances down into categories: rent, maintenance, vegetation and building material, etc. 

Community supported design – Now the fun part – what will this park look like? Involve as many people from the neighborhood as you can; parents, friends, seniors, and children, and see what kind of park they imagine. The more ideas the better. It can grow and change throughout time, but there should to be a general framework laid out so that individuals can contribute to the park in an organized way. Where should the pathways be? Does it need a fence around it? What space should be left open for community gatherings? Are there existing trees that could offer shade for picnic and play areas?

Build – Now lets make this thing! Gather volunteers and community members together to get their hands dirty. Plant trees, build sand pits, make a raised vegetable garden. Keep it simple and fun, use found materials and local resources.

See how it evolves – the important thing about a community supported playground is that anyone can contribute and turn it into the kind of space they want. BYO flowers to plant, dig your own sand pit, or build your own tire swing. See what your neighbors bring and enjoy the great outdoors! 
 
For futher reading,  UNICEF has insights about the importance of stimulation and play for early childhood developmment. And great ideas for affordable play. 

Who will benefit from this idea and where are they located?

Communities from low income neighborhoods in dense urban cities would likely benefit most from this idea. Wherever there is high social capital, community parks can thrive. Where social capital is lower, a community park could help generate social capital, but requires an energetic leader to overcome the challenges.

How could you test this idea in a quick and low-cost way right now?

Because I don't actually know if the process I laid out would work, I would like to use the steps listed above to create a community supported park in my neighborhood, and document my progress. The principles are universal so maybe as I go you can follow along, learn from my successes and mistakes and one day build a community-supported park in your neighborhood.

What kind of help would you need to make your idea real?

I would like to get advice from people who have created successful community supported parks or gardens and see what kinds of challenges they faced and how they overcame them. I would need help from the local Parks and Recreation department, donors who would support the cause, and of course my local community.

Is this an idea that you or your organization would like to take forward?

  • Yes. I am ready and interested in testing this idea and making it real in my community.

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Photo of Kastriot Hasani
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Hi Susanna, Great concept. I was thinking in most third world rural areas, there is normally a community leader in which the people go and speak to. Maybe another way of building a greater network would be by talking to the leader to pass the message on to the rest?

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