Playgrounds Gone Wild?

Editor's Note: Looks like the Everyday Tourist is wrong on this one. Majority of readers say "can't have enough playgrounds! 

As spring arrives and I start to wander my neighbourhood streets more, I especially love walking by the many colourful playgrounds just to hear the happy shrieks and shouts of kids and parents enjoying Calgary’s great urban outdoors. We are blessed with a plethora of playgrounds in Calgary’s northwest inner city communities; it seems like there is one every few blocks.

As well, over the past few years, there seems to have been an explosion of playground renewal renovation in our area - from the uber-popular Helicopter Park to the not quite yet completed Riley Park playground.

It is the latter which got me thinking. Perhaps we have too many playgrounds? “How is that even possible?” you ask?  Well, it is possible when there are four playgrounds all basically on the same block – yes, FOUR! And, where you ask is that?

Hillhurst Community Centre playground's play window for kids to look down and adult to look up at each other.

Hillhurst Community Centre playground's play window for kids to look down and adult to look up at each other.

It’s on the Hillhurst Community Centre block (6th Ave. on the south, 7th Ave. on the north, 14th St. on the west and 12th St. on the east). There is one at the west side of the Community Centre (next to the community garden/orchard and easily visible to those walking, cycling and driving by on 6th Avenue NW).

There are two playgrounds just north at the Hillhurst School - one on the west side of the school and one on the east.  I am sure there is a good reason for two playgrounds, but I am afraid to ask. I suspect one is for younger children and the other for older ones. If this is the case, I wonder what this teaches children about sharing and interacting with different age groups.  I went to kindergarten to grade 8 school and we all shared the same playground and I don’t recall any major problems. Lessons taught, or not taught, at an early age can result in unintended consequences later in life.

The yellow pins indicate the location of the four playgrounds.  The white shape in the upper right corner is the wading pool in Riley Park. The orange pin is in the middle of the block where a major condo complex is currently under construction. 

The fourth playground is at the extreme southwest corner of Riley Park, across the street from Hillhurst Community Centre. It is a strange location given how far away from it is from the park’s popular children’s wading pond.  The old playground has been removed and a new playground is currently being constructed on the same site, which will soon be almost in the backyard of a new Ezra condo complex. (Backstory: Ezra Hounsfield Riley who once had a huge ranch that encompassed most of what is now Hillhurst, West Hillhurst, Parkdale and Montgomery, donated the land for Riley Park.)

The new Riley Park playground.

I can just hear it now -  “Who’s bright idea was it to totally rebuild a playground next to a residential block with three playgrounds just steps away?”  This would have been a good time to perhaps relocate the playground to the wading pool area or perhaps remove it entirely and let families use the school or community playgrounds a half a block away.

After a recent yoga class at the Bodhi Tree on 14th Ave NW across from the Hillhurst School, I paced out the distance between the playgrounds.  It was about 60 steps from the playground on the west side of the school to the one on the east. From there it was 252 steps to the new Riley Park playground and then another 189 steps to the Hillhurst Community Centre playground.

Playground on west side of Hillhurst School. 

Playground on the east side of the historic sandstone Hillhurst School. 

I realize we can’t have young children walking from the schoolyard to a playground a half a block away or have daycare children walking to a playground across the street.  Yet somehow it seems wrong to have four playgrounds - with a total cost I estimate at well over $500,000 - all within a few steps of each other. Especially given playgrounds are relatively empty most of the time. (When I walk by rarely do I see more than two families at a time, except in school grounds at recess and lunch.)

I heard somewhere that the public isn’t supposed to use school playgrounds on school days. Is that true? I have always thought schoolyards to be public spaces as schools are funded by taxpayer dollars and the land is government-owned. I think any school that wants to ban the public from their schoolyard should also be banned from receiving any of my tax dollars.  I have never seen a no trespassing sign on a schoolyard, so I am thinking and hoping it is a shared public space! 

 Last Word

Shouldn’t playgrounds be meeting places for young families? So, wouldn’t fewer playgrounds encourage more walking and more interaction with others? Isn’t that a good thing? I am thinking one large central community/schoolyard playground would be best?

Perhaps herein lies an important urban planning lesson i.e. we need to link schools, daycares, parks and community centres so they can share playgrounds and playing fields to maximize the interaction of people of all ages and backgrounds.  This is an important step in helping create a sense of community.

Are their other communities in Calgary where we have “gone wild” in creating too many playgrounds?  Drop me a note and I will add it to this blog!

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