Comments on the 2015-2021 Open Space Plan

The Parks Department is accepting feedback on the 2015-2021 Open Space Plan. Below is the full text of the comments that Roslindale Wants to Play sent to the department. Please consider indicating your support for our feedback by mailing a link to this page to openspaceplan2015@cityofboston.gov.


We have reviewed the draft 2015-2021 Open Space Plan (the “Plan”) and offer the following comments concerning the plan’s consideration of Roslindale’s play spaces.

The new Plan provides some useful, and we think accurate, analysis of Roslindale’s open space needs. In particular, the new methodology used to determine each neighborhood’s park needs appears to be sound. Even at a quick glance, the maps included in the Roslindale analysis clearly confirm the neighborhood’s playground shortage.

Surprisingly, however, the Plan is very short on delivering what it is intended to provide: an outline for improving the deficiencies that it identifies. When the Parks Department first sought public input in the summer and fall of 2013, scores of Roslindale residents commented on the severe lack of playgrounds in Roslindale and requested that the city address that scarcity in the Plan. These comments were refined in the Roslindale Playground Summary we later promoted publicly and in subsequent comments to city council members, the new mayor, and the Parks Department. Other than a nod to the community request for a water feature and a vague proposal that land acquisition “should be considered to address [the park] deficiency,” the Plan is glaring for its lack of reference to these strong and repeated requests to address the dearth of play spaces in Roslindale. This is a serious shortcoming for a plan that the public reasonably expects will guide the department for the better part of the next decade and, presumably, will map out the allocation of the department’s limited resources over that period. To have a meaningful impact on Roslindale’s play space scarcity the Plan must incorporate specific and clear goals for Roslindale’s play spaces.

Perhaps the most obvious goal is to deal appropriately with the existing playgrounds. We are heartened by the city’s recent effort to expedite the redevelopment of the Fallon playground by moving the design and construction schedules up a year. It is imperative that the City similarly expedite the redevelopment of the Healy Playground, which, as we’ve explained in a recent blog post about Healy playground on the Roslindale Wants to Play website, is in even a greater need than Fallon. Healy’s redesign ought to have earned at least a mention in the Plan, if not also a stated commitment to being a priority.

Another obvious goal is to identify specific locations and develop new play elements in Roslindale. We are aware that Roslindale’s lack of playgrounds is due in large part to the fact that there are few city-owned properties to place new full playgrounds. However, a list of the few city-owned lots that do exist, such as the parcels located at Wright Street next to the Irving Middle School, Earhardt Road in Metropolitan Woods, 460 – 464 Hyde Park Avenue, 588 Hyde Park Avenue, and between Poplar and Seymour Street, ought to be cataloged in the Plan and called out for further exploration. Joint development of underutilized Boston Public Schools property, such as the evacuation route at the rear of the Sumner School, which the school itself is eager to see turned into a usable play and outdoor education space, should also be addressed in the Plan.

The Plan must go beyond these obvious goals, as well. Mayor Walsh has repeatedly called for Boston to have, in the near future, the greatest parks system in the country. In our view, Boston will not be able to claim this distinction without becoming a leader in public play space design and implementation for all of its neighborhoods – not just along the tourist-traveled Rose Kennedy Greenway and the Innovation District. To increase the quantity and quality of neighborhood play spaces in Roslindale, the Plan must stretch the conventional understanding of playgrounds and embrace a planning approach to Roslindale’s play space scarcity that is in line with Mayor Walsh’s vision for the whole city. The plan ought to call out more innovative, nimble, and fun solutions.

Specifically, a plan that truly looks to address this problem would, among other efforts, employ the following approaches to play:

  1. Consider play elements, not just playgrounds. Children will play almost anywhere they can with almost whatever they can. The Parks Department should look beyond typical playground structures and think broadly about elements that activate play in all its forms. An element that is not even a structure, such as blocks produced by Imagination Playground, can be more creative and collaborative (so called “lateral” play) than typical structures. A cart of these blocks made available a few times a week in, say, Adams Park, would highly activate the area and engage Roslindale’s children in a new and exciting way.
  2. Expand the notion of suitable locations. Do not just consider large footprint playground sites, but also small and oddly shaped locations and design the play elements to suit the site. For example, a site with a steep grade not suitable for a traditional play structure could use the grade for a climbing feature and slide. A potential good site for such a play space is at the western end of the “upper” MBTA parking lot in Roslindale. Or, consider a vertical play structure with a small footprint like those created by Tom Luckey, and place it in a pocket park – or even a parklet reclaimed from a street.
  3. Consider play elements as art, and public art as play elements. Cambridge and other municipalities have been effective in engaging architects and sculptors, such as Mitch Ryerson, to develop play structures. Even a bus stop, a covered bench, or a sidewalk can be a sculpture and a play element. The swings at the Lawn on D, a project of Massachusetts Convention Center Authority, are beautiful, innovative and fun. They’ve activated a dull corner of the Seaport for an adult set. This is the brand of art-play innovation that Boston Parks should be developing in Roslindale. A good thing about unique sculpture-play structures is that they expand the potential funding sources for projects to arts budgets and grantmakers.
  4. Consider play elements as tools toward civic engagement. Empower the New Urban Mechanics to conduct a contest for inexpensive play elements in the mold of its Public Space Invitational. This could result in inexpensive approaches to Roslindale’s play element scarcity and will engage the community – and beyond – around problem solving what is essentially a civic problem about making public space engaging for younger populations.
  5. Work across city departments. To best achieve the ideas expressed in this letter the Parks Department should prod other city departments to help solve this issue and engage as much of the city resources it can: Boston Transportation Department for locating new parklets, Public Works for identifying and developing locations where side walks can be bumped out to accommodate new pocket parks, the Boston Arts Commission (and the Department of Arts & Culture) for public “play” sculptures, Boston Public Schools for joint development of additional playground space and the New Urban Mechanics for new play civic engagement projects.
  6. Partner with non-government institutions. Certain Roslindale institutions would benefit from jointly developing and siting play elements on their land. The Arnold Arboretum, for example, which has a robust education program, has signs up that state children should not climb its trees because the trees can be damaged. Climbing, an irresistible urge for most children, could be channeled toward an artificial “climbing tree” that doubled as an education tool for children about tree botany. Hebrew Senior Life has touted its success with engendering a multigenerational campus in Dedham, which includes both elderly housing and The Rashi elementary school. Children “bring liveliness and joy into [its] community” of elders, its website declares. A playground within the view of patients of its Roslindale facility could also very easily achieve the same goal. Rogerson Communities could similarly be enticed to embrace this model for its several Roslindale locations.
  7. Commit to making Adams Park a focal point for play activity in Roslindale Village. Installing a play element in one of the park’s two under-utilized corners would activate the park with children and serve as a destination for families. This would help capture greater economic activity for Roslindale businesses, a goal expressed by Mayor Walsh in the Plan’s introduction.
  8. Develop parks with kinetic and unpredictable elements that help children to learn to make calculated risks. Much has been written in recent years about how playgrounds have become too safe for our children’s own good. It is suggested that children do not develop the skills to assess their own limits or develop a healthy regard for independent exploration. Play spaces that are different from the linear play structures ubiquitous across all of America will challenge children in new and different ways.

As evidenced by the numerous links above, Boston has fallen far behind pioneering cities, such as our neighbors across the Charles River, in the realm of creative play. This open space planning process, however, is rich with possibilities for Boston. And Roslindale in particular is a community eager for bold and creative action.

The ability of the Plan to achieve Mayor Walsh’s ambitious – and worthwhile – vision depends upon the Plan staking out clear and meaningful goals, while adopting an openness to less traditional approaches to play. Frankly, in its current state the Plan continues the City’s long-standing failure to state a strong, imaginative vision of “play.” We hope for at least the next seven years the Boston Park’s department will adopt an innovative approach to play in Roslindale and truly make Boston a leader in this regard.

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