MS. REBECCA SHEIR
We turn now from the happiness of adults on the go to the happiness of children at play. D.C. Mayor Vincent Gray has designated $35 million for Play D.C., a plan to renovate 32 of the city's 78 playgrounds through the Department of Parks and Recreation. Emily Berman trekked across the district to check out these playgrounds in progress.
MS. EMILY BERMAN
The Takoma Playground is surrounded by fencing and construction equipment. Everything that's here now, all the swings, ladders and slides, they're all on their way out.
MAYOR VINCENT GRAY
Now, we have the largest playground improvement project in the history of the District of Columbia, ladies and gentleman.
Mayor Gray is ceremonially breaking ground here at Tacoma, but work has already begun on playgrounds all over the city. By the end of September, Play D.C. will completely renovate 32 playgrounds.
MS. BRIDGET STESNEY
So I think we're definitely doing the ones that really, really needed it. I mean, there were some that were in pretty rough shape.
Bridget Stesney is the chief operating officer of the District's Department of Parks and Recreation.
So we're looking at everything like from the equipment to the demographics of the neighborhood, shade, does it have water fountains. All of those things kind of equate into how we're prioritizing the playgrounds.
All the old equipment is being scrapped. The new parks are safe, she says, but also innovative.
So Takoma, we always think about the big trees. So the equipment looks like a tree house, there's lots of like log climbers. We'll have slides coming down the hillside, and then we have a little skate spot for that like tween age group.
At the Harrison playground, near U Street, the equipment looks like musical instruments, in honor of the neighborhood's jazz heritage. In the Palisades, where Native Americans settled along the Potomac River, the playground design is more natural with climbing rocks and archeological carvings. But the kids' play area is only one element of a playground redesign. Jesus Aguirre is the director of the Department of Parks and Recreation.
MR. JESUS AGUIRRE
Play DC is sort of a culmination of just our thinking, how do we create spaces where we want all families and generations to be outdoors and to be experimenting and playing and really just being active.
These parks are for the whole family, Aguirre says. There's outdoor fitness equipment for adults, community gardens, and for the first time ever in D.C., a playground that's entirely accessible for people in wheelchairs.
Stephanie Sparks bangs the bongo drums at the Rosedale Community Center in Ward 6. Her firm, Sparks at Play, helped to design the District's first playground built specifically for children with special needs.
MS. STEPHANIE SPARKS
Everything that's in here was done with a lot of thought to make sure that it's wheelchair accessible and that all of the play panels are actually things that child in a wheelchair can pull directly up to, not go over the edge, and be able to play with.
The site is near St. Coletta Special Education Public Charter School. And when it opens to the public on May 31, kids will find quiet spaces, wheelchair swings, a merry-go-round and family picnic areas.
On the other side of the city, at Forest Hills Playground, which will be renovated later this summer, the kids are going wild.
MR. ALEXANDER DISIMONE
My favorite spot is those--I like those wiggly monkey bars over there.
Alexander Disimone (sp?) flies across the monkey bars in record time.
You've been practicing a lot?
The $35 million going toward Play D.C. will cover 32 playgrounds. Pair that with the sites renovated over the past few years and by the end of the summer more than half of the 78 playgrounds in D.C. will be brand new. There's an additional $4 million in the mayor's 2014 budget to continue the project.
MS. CARYN EARNST
It is part of a national trend that's going on right now.
I'm here with Caryn Earnst. She's a senior advisor at KaBoom!, a non profit play advocates for play in lower income communities.
They mayor of Pittsburgh, about 10 years ago, took on an initiative to create 200 new playgrounds in the city.
In Chicago, Mayor Rahm Emanuel announced a plan to rebuild 300 playgrounds over the next five years. In New York, Mayor Bloomberg has worked with the public schools to open up schoolyards for neighborhood children to play after-hours.
We know that people are more likely to move to neighborhoods that have good park and playground resources, and we also know that people are more likely to stay in those neighborhoods and choose to raise their kids in those neighborhoods long term, if they're designed around families and designed around kids. So it really is a long-term strategy for improving neighborhoods, and that, in the end, will improve economic development in the city overall.
With the city's population and land values on the rise, the government will have to get creative about how it builds new green spaces. Jesus Aguirre, of the Department of Parks and Rec, says the goal is to work with D.C. public schools and the National Parks Service to open up more space to the public for free play and outdoor fun. I'm Emily Berman.
To see renderings of some of the new playgrounds underway, head to our website, metroconnection.org.
Time for a break, but when we get back, we'll meet a D.C. student who's overcome danger and heading toward a bright and happy future.
MS. SHARNIKA GLASBY
When I graduate, I want to be able to say I was in the top five or I was number one, which I was in the beginning of the year.
That and more in just a minute on "Metro Connection,” here on WAMU 88.5.
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