Outdoor recreation is recognized by early childhood educators as a critical foundation for the future learning of our young children. More than just a place to play, playgrounds also support physical, social, emotional and cognitive development of our young children. Many Chicago Park District playgrounds feature colorful elements, soft surfacing and accessible play equipment for children of all ages and abilities.
Did you know that a playground safety study by Friends of the Parks and what is now the Lurie Children’s Hospital inspected all 517 playgrounds that existed in Chicago’s parks in 2008? The study led to the creation of the Chicago Park District’s Chicago Plays! program, later renamed the Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s Chicago Plays! program. “Chicago Plays!” Playground Program is a five-year playground renovation project. The program targets the replacement of equipment at 325 aging playgrounds throughout the city. In 2013, 50 playgrounds were rehabilitated through the program. Additionally, 11 soft surface playgrounds were rehabbed, ensuring that families across the city have access to a safe and inviting play space.
Though the City’s video fails to credit or mention Friends of the Parks, we have been one of the partners throughout the project on community outreach to engage local residents about their choices for new playground equipment as the Park District has prioritized the replacement of the 327 most dilapidated playgrounds across Chicago. We are excited to see so many of our partners and Park Advisory Council folks featured in the video discussing the benefits of the playground renovation program.
As of late 2016, the project is finishing ahead of schedule partly because the City and Park District have been minimizing the resident engagement aspect of the program as of late and rushing or bypassing the community input process. Friends of the Parks continues to contend that the sense of community ownership bolstered by engaging neighbors is a key aspect of the program, especially when so many residents are complaining about lack of a sense of security in their parks and playgrounds. We need neighbors to own their local parks!
Nonetheless, we are super excited to see the fruit of this collaborative effort come to bear in so many communities across our city!