The proposed design for Fallon Field’s playground is clearly a step forward from the existing playground. Its use of an embankment to add play value and the water feature’s thoughtful design will be welcome additions to the neighborhood. It is also clear that the designers have incorporated community feedback into the design, and are mindful of both our need for better play options and the (primarily budgetary) constraints under which they are working.
With that said, this playground renovation – along with the upcoming renovation to Healy Field – is an opportunity to improve the neighborhood that we likely won’t see again for as many as 15 years. When we spoke to the mayor about our playgrounds last fall, he mentioned that Roslindale is in the midst of one of the biggest increases in childhood population of all of Boston’s neighborhoods. Mayor Walsh has voiced his intent to make Boston’s parks the best in the nation, and in discussing the future of the city has remarked:
A healthy city needs dynamic public space, diversified housing, and abundant opportunity. An innovative city is not afraid to change, grow, and take up a leadership role on the world stage. Above all, a great city should plan for the future with confidence and creativity.
As advocates for public play space in Roslindale, we want to be sure the city is doing more than just taking a step forward, and is instead embracing this opportunity to demonstrate its commitment to a neighborhood whose play needs are both significant and increasing. To do so, we hope that the Parks Department will explore the following suggestions. While we understand that there will be financial implications to these proposals, we hope that the city will agree that when spread out over the 15 year lifespan of the playground the benefits to the neighborhood are well worth these costs, especially given our neighborhood’s history of receiving meager playground funding.
Add an Iconic Element
The signature item in Concept A from the design alternatives presented in February was a “pyramid slide” that had the potential to become an iconic element for Fallon Field. While play value is – and should be – the primary concern of a playground design, adding an iconic element provides an important indication of the central place that play holds in the community, and dramatically increases the appeal of the playground to both adults and children. A well-designed iconic element could play the dual role of providing both immense play value and a whimsical piece of public art.
Use the Embankment to Serve a Broader Range of Abilities
The playground’s embankment is a central – and highly valuable – part of the design, providing both play and aesthetic value. However, we are concerned that, as currently conceived, it may also be holding the design back in some ways. Most importantly, all three of the playground’s slides are included in the embankment, spanning its height of just four feet. In comparison, the current playground at Fallon Field features two slides that are roughly six feet tall. In Concept A from the February meeting, the pyramid slide provided a structure at the top of the embankment that added both height and interest. That slide’s omission from the final design, beyond depriving the playground of an iconic element, has also resulted in a loss of play value for older kids who are ready for larger play elements and more risk.
Other playgrounds in Boston have incorporated embankment slides into modest inclines of similar height, to results that we find underwhelming. Two examples include the Mozart School playground in Roslindale and Mother’s Rest playground in the Fenway:
Even a comparison between the sketches of the proposed “wide slide” and its inspiration shows that the proposal is likely to be far too timid for all but the youngest children, but that the opportunity exists to increase both the height and pitch of the slides on the embankment.
To us, the embankment slide at the northern end of the design provides the best opportunity for a taller, steeper slide. Using that slide for this purpose would allow the embankment to serve more kids, with play features that grow increasingly challenging as you move from the southern end of the embankment to the northern end.
Introduce More Height and Risk In General
Beyond the limitations of the proposed embankment zone, the structures featured in the “bowl” appear to have been chosen for their appeal to a large age range. This is certainly a worthwhile goal; these structures will provide challenges for younger visitors as they play in close proximity to older children. However, among the climbers shown in the design alternatives, the one that was selected for the preferred design appears to be the lowest and least challenging. In fact, in the original Concept A schematic, it is labeled as the 2-5 year old climber. While we are confident that the spray area will maintain its appeal for a wide age range, our fear is that children will grow out of the remainder of the playground at a fairly young age.
It is hard for us to ignore the fact that an iconic structure spanning both tiers of the playground goes a long way towards achieving all three of the suggestions listed above. While we recognize that this project cannot have an unlimited budget, we hope that the Parks Department will agree with us that it is worth closing the gap between a design that is a “step forward” and one that fully lives up to the mayor’s calls for leadership in planning for the future creatively and confidently. We’re close enough that it feels attainable.