District Playgrounds Get Face Lift

12/5/2012, 9:33 a.m.

DPR Encourages More Residents' Input

Monkey bars, swing sets, reading or picnic spaces - these are some of the decisions that District residents need to make at upcoming community meetings designed to improve the city's playgrounds.

The D.C. Department of Parks and Recreation (DPR) is leading Play DC, a multi-year, citywide renovation project, expected to improve 32 of the city's 78 playground spaces by October 2013.

"Play is a fundamental aspect of growth and development for children and youth," said DPR Director Jesus Aguirre about the ambitious project, "and a positive exercise experience leads to avoidance of weight gain, higher self-esteem and reduction of risk factors for disease."

Play DC will set in motion the largest set of playground designs and improvements in the city's history. At the center of it is the community feedback, which is unfolding in two phases. The first phase offered residents an overview of the project and an opportunity to give perspective on what they want done to their play space.

At the Hillcrest Community Recreation Center in Ward 7, a handful of residents attended its first DC Play meeting on Nov. 29. Eight-year-old Taleyah and her four-year-old sister Dakota Evans were among the residents weighing in. The girls each had stickers to place on their specific play choices. They chose images of the monkey bars, swings and other playground equipment.

"I would really like to have a swimming pool," said Taleyah, as she placed a sticker on the words, "swimming pool," written in by one of the residents. It wasn't part of the play space project, said DPR spokesperson John Stokes.

"Nothing is too bold or out of range," Stokes added. "This is a project we want to give residents a chance to say what they want for their play space. It's also for adults. We're seeking input for multi-generational play spaces." Stokes also corrected an earlier assertion that the project would be completed by the summer of 2013.

Other adults at Hillcrest chose picnic spaces, reading areas and outdoor fitness equipment. The Hillcrest meeting was one of the last of the first phase of meetings, which focused on planning and design. The second phase of Play DC began Dec. 5 with architect renderings of the community's ideas. It would allow for fine tuning from further community feedback. The last meetings are Dec. 20.

The project, which is expected to cost $30 million, did not enter into partnership with KaBOOM, the District-based nonprofit dedicated to creating play spaces through community participation.

"This is the mayor's initiative, he's doing some fantastic things in this city," Stokes said. "This is historical. He has a right to be excited about this - it's a good thing."

Mayor Vincent Gray said the Play DC initiative is part of the One City Action Plan, an ambitious strategy for improving the city across multiple areas affecting the quality of life for all District residents.

"That's why getting a broad sampling of public feedback is necessary, and I urge residents to attend the feedback sessions on the project at their local playgrounds," said Gray, 70.

The criteria DPR used to identify playgrounds included the condition of existing equipment, especially if there was a potential to cause injury and children living within proximity to the playground. DPR will partner with the District's Department of General Services to design and construct the play spaces.

"We need our residents to let us know how we can improve the play-space experience in their neighborhood," Aguirre added. "We want these renovations to reflect a broad spectrum of community input."

Residents unable to make the meetings are encouraged to fill out the online survey at https://www.surveymonkey.com/s/PlayDC or email PlayDC@dc.gov.