Magazine article Parks & Recreation

The Way We Play: A Survey of 25 Urban Park Districts Reveals Trends in Playground Development and Upkeep

Magazine article Parks & Recreation

The Way We Play: A Survey of 25 Urban Park Districts Reveals Trends in Playground Development and Upkeep

Article excerpt

With gleaming skyscrapers soaring above the Texas prairie, a thriving economy and a reputation for style and sophistication, Dallas is a model of the dynamic American city. So, too, are the recreational facilities the city provides for its younger citizens. The City of Dallas Park and Recreation Department operates more than 220 playgrounds for the city's approximately 1.2 million residents, which places a playground in almost all of its neighborhoods.

In addition to providing an ample number of playgrounds, the city also attempts to ensure that these playgrounds are safe and up-to-date. Dallas has an ongoing playground renovation program as part of its Capital Improvement Program, according to Michael Hellman, manager of parks planning for the park and recreation department. Playground renovations are included in each four-year bond cycle. Approximately 50 playgrounds are completely renovated with new equipment and surfacing in each cycle.

This allows the city to renovate about five percent of its playgrounds each year, roughly corresponding to the 15-to 20-year expected playground service life. The renovation program keeps Dallas' playgrounds in line with current safety standards and provides the latest play innovations for the city's children, says Hellman. "Our replacement program has been noticed by our citizens and shows in customer satisfaction surveys" he says.

Dallas' approach to playgrounds is typical of most major urban park districts, as documented by a recent survey of these districts. During late 2005 and early 2006, Henderson Consulting Services, Inc., a market research and consulting firm specializing in playgrounds and recreation, conducted a survey of playgrounds and playground planning in park districts in the country's 25 largest population centers.

Districts were queried on the number of playgrounds in each district; plans for new playground construction and renovation of existing playgrounds during the next five years; and equipment and protective surfacing used and planned on district playgrounds.

Number of Playgrounds Operated

Each park district had an average of 218 playgrounds. The districts surveyed had between 85 and 990 playground facilities. As might be expected, the number of playgrounds operated generally followed the population of districts.

Also of interest is the ratio of district population to number of district playgrounds, shown in Table A on page 36.

Three of the six districts with more than 10,000 residents per playground were counties, which typically have fewer parks and playgrounds than cities. County playgrounds are also supplemented by playgrounds of other municipalities (e.g. cities) within their boundaries. If these three counties are eliminated, the average number of residents per playground decreases to 6,700 and the median number of residents per playground to 6,000.

What do these numbers tell us about access to playgrounds in our nation's largest urban centers? Reference to some broad guidelines may help answer this question. Recreation, Park and Open Space Standards and Guidelines, published by NRPA in 1990, classifies a "Neighborhood Park/Playground" as a facility servicing as many as 5,000 people. Most districts surveyed approached this figure--14 districts fell into the category of" less than 7,000 residents per playground." The median number of residents per playground was about 6,000. This would indicate that residents of most districts surveyed, like those in Dallas, indeed have access to a neighborhood playground.

New and Renovated Playgrounds

Playground Renovation

More than a thousand miles from Dallas, in the historic city of Philadelphia, Penn., playground renovation is also a key element in the city's recreation program. Philadelphia renovates 15 to 20 playgrounds each year, according to Sam LePera, design and construction manager with the Philadelphia Department of Recreation. …

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