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Friday, September 27, 2013

RIOC and Hudson Related Respond To Roosevelt Island Parents Concerns Over New Blackwell Park Playground - Parents Offer Some Wishes For Improvements

Reported previously on the concerns of some parents regarding the new Blackwell Park Playground.
... Some Roosevelt Island parents of toddlers are disappointed with the new Blackwell Park playground because it is not as suitable for young children as the Southtown Tot Lot it replaced. They also have safety concerns for the younger children because Blackwell Park playground is being used by older children and teenagers....

The Roosevelt Island Operating Corp (RIOC) and the Southtown Development Team (Hudson Related) responded to these Blackwell Park Playground

 Image Of Blackwell Park Opening Day From RIOC

concerns with the following:
To the Parents of R.I.:

Since the new playground at Blackwell Park opened last week, we have received a number of questions from the Island’s parents and community leaders. We thought it would be fruitful to address these questions and concerns:

What was the primary goal of the new playground?

As a joint public/private effort, it was our responsibility to the Roosevelt Island community to build a safe, quality environment that would serve the broadest audience.

How was the playground designed, by what process and with what feedback? How were safety concerns addressed in the overall design?

First, it began with the location. This beautiful spot on the island was part of the 2001 Southtown Masterplan. There was a lot of thought put into incorporating the playground into the existing park fabric; it’s surrounded by mature trees for shade, close to the sprinklers and public outdoor recreation areas. The new location of the playground is a truly special place in Blackwell Park. The shady area provides a respite for the children while addressing one of the biggest concerns—lack of shade-- about the old Tot Lot; however the trees (and their root structure) defined the physical perimeter of the playground.

Once the perimeter was determined, it was necessary to provide adequate “fall zones” that define the radius of each apparatus. Most play structures require a minimum 6 feet of clear safety zone all around. You cannot install fixed objects, including barriers, in those prescribed fall zones. Given the site constraints and following these safety requirements, the new site did not allow us to provide separate apparatuses for each age group or to create barriers between age groups. We incorporated the largest play structure we could fit on the site and programmed a range of play devices for multiple ages while still meeting the safety zone requirements.

The playground review and planning process took place from March through May of 2013 by RIOC and the Southtown developers. We discussed the “lessons learned” from the existing Tot Lot and reviewed the plans, equipment, type of play surface (no wood chips, please!) and addressed concerns including equipment material, adding more benches, and adding a fence to the swing area. The result of these discussions, a final playground design, was approved for construction starting mid-June. Construction began shortly thereafter and the playground opened this past week.

Is this playground only for older kids and/or duplicative with the playground at the other end of Blackwell Park?

No. This playground was designed so that a wide range of our RI children can use it, including children as young as 6-months old and toddlers. The intent of the design was to be inclusive, not exclusive. We tried to incorporate as much diversity and choice within the site, not for a singular age cohort, because of the following key reasons:
  •  Reach the largest numbers of families.
  • Allow children (siblings and friends) to play concurrently since the older children’s playground is not in physical or visual proximity.
  • Avoid children “aging out” of the playground as the toddler years are for only 18 months; the new playground would allow a child to find interest in the playground for a longer period of their childhood.
Is it unsafe for a toddler to play near, say, a 6-year-old on a mixed-age playground?

No. Many City parks have mixed-age play equipment and without physical separation of age cohort. Kids of different ages can concurrently and safely play at the various levels and on the different apparatus.

It is also important to note that children need to be attended by their caregivers at all times. We have installed soft play surfaces throughout the entire park, provided physical separation from the swings, and selected modern, safe, and durable play equipment that does not splinter (wood) or reflect extraordinary heat (metal). However, these things do not negate an adult’s responsibility to watch and monitor the safety of their children.

What play equipment is specifically for a younger child?

Single apparatuses specifically selected for toddlers are grouped in the South-East corner of the park, with the intention to separate them, as much as possible within the limits of the given space. The Tot’s Toddle Rocker

and the (2) Straus climbers

are designed for toddlers at ages 6 – 23 months old. The 2-Seat Spring Rider is designed for 2-5 years.

On the larger apparatus, there are a number of elements that are appropriate and designed for children age 2-5 years; two out of the three slides – the tube and the zip slides, the sloped funnel climber, the stepped platform, the nature panel, drum and steering wheel, are all designed for ages 2-5 years.

On the swings there are two out of four seats specifically for children aged 2-5 years old: the Tot Swing Seat

 and the Zero-G Swing Seat.

Stroller parking: Inside or outside?

Again, the physical perimeter of the playground was defined by the site. The playground can accommodate a number of strollers but they do take up space intended for the children. We would like to implement stroller parking outside of the playground gates.

Will there be signage added to the park?

Yes. Signage will be installed that will outline the hours of the park and other important rules such as no children without adults, no adults without children, the age range of the playground, stroller parking location and a reminder to caregivers to watch children at times.

We appreciate the feedback that we have received thus far. Any issue or concern that is brought to our attention will be closely monitored and addressed accordingly. We hope that the playground is a positive addition to the Roosevelt Island community and that children will continue to enjoy their new play space!

The Southtown Development Team and RIOC
Eva Bosbach, head of the Parents Network and Roosevelt Island Residents Association (RIRA) Common Council Member, shares this message she sent to RIOC and Hudson Related yesterday.
We would like to thank both RIOC and Hudson Related for addressing some of the concerns of parents in regards to the new Blackwell Park Playground. Please see below for a list of requests for improvements collected among the members of the RI Parents' Network (currently 250 families) which we hope Hudson Related or RIOC might be able to conduct at this point.

WISHES FOR IMPROVEMENTS in the Blackwell Park Playground, as collected from members of the RI Parents' Network:

1. Add more Baby swings and/or convert at least one of the other swings in the new playground (and if possible also some of the swings in the close-by playground behind the basketball court) to baby swings. We have swings for older children very close by. Despite our request for more baby swings during the process, their number has been reduced in half with the new playground: There is now exactly one baby swing for the whole island population of estimated 14.000 people and hundreds of babies.

2. Put a “Please keep this door closed at all times” sign on the main gate as many children and adults are leaving the gate wide open at the moment.

3. Change the standard label "5-12 years" on the main structure to a custom label "5-9 years", and add a "2-5 years" label, so that the structure is labeled for both age groups according to it's effective play elements. Sara confirmed that a) the intended playground target group is "6 months to 8/9 years old[s]" (see earlier response on 9/23/13 update) and in an earlier e-mail from 8/5/2013 stated for the main structure that "In addition there are several other features that are appropriate for the ages of 2-5 years on the large play equipment (standard labels are either “2-5” or “5-12” and our equipment is geared for both)". Matching the labels to the present equipment and intended age groups would also give the parents the possibility to refer to the signs in the many described cases of older children using the playground and posing a safety risk to the little ones.

4. Add a natural barrier like a bench or shrubs to separate the lower equipment for babies and toddlers from the main structure. The Public Safety Commission requires that “For playgrounds intended to serve children of all ages, the layout of pathways and the landscaping of the playground should show the distinct areas for the different age groups. The areas should be separated at least by a buffer zone, which could be an area with shrubs or benches. This separation and buffer zone will reduce the chance of injury from older, more active children running through areas filled with younger children with generally slower movement and reaction times.” (Section 2.2.2 Age Separation, CPSC Public Playground Safety Handbook, URL: ).

5. Install an emergency call box close-by (we asked for such a call box at a meeting with Erica on August 15).

6. Consider public bathrooms as part of the renovated Blackwell Park, as the closest ones right now are at the RI Tram station (we asked for close-by public bathrooms at a meeting with Erica on August 15)

7. Inform us about plans with the old Tot lot structure and possibly let us use it for the younger children somewhere on the island, perhaps in one of the courtyards of the Hudson Related buildings.

8. Confirm that Hudson Related paid both for the construction of the old Tot lot and for the construction of the new playground entirely, and clarify if tax or community dollars were allocated.

We sincerely hope that you will be able to address these wishes.

Thank you very much for all your efforts!
More on the Roosevelt Island Blackwell Park playground from previous post.