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Building Better Playgrounds for D.C. Kids

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Rendering of Rosedale Community Center's playground
Isaac Sparks
Rendering of Rosedale Community Center's playground

D.C. Mayor Vincent Gray has designated $35 million to renovate playgrounds around the city through the Department of Parks and Recreation. Play DC, as the plan is known, is revamping some of the city's play areas.

Work is underway at playgrounds all over the city, but at a ceremonial groundbreaking at Takoma Playground, in northwest D.C., Gray declares this "the largest playground improvement project in the history of the District of Columbia." By the end of September, Play DC will completely renovate 32 playgrounds.

Bridget Stesney, chief operating officer of the District's Department of Parks and Recreation, explains many playgrounds were in rough shape. They created a scorecard to rank each site based on age of the equipment, shade, water fountains, and safety.

All the old equipment is being scrapped to make way for safer and more innovative designs. In Takoma, she explains, "the equipment looks like a tree house, there's lots of log climbers. We'll have slides coming down the hillside, and a skate spot."

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 designed with natural climbing rocks and archeological carvings.

The children's play area is only one element of a playground redesign. Jesús Aguirre, Director of the Department of Parks and Recreation, says Play DC is "the culmination of our thinking... [about] how we create spaces where we want all generations to be experimenting and playing and being active."

These parks are for the whole family, Aguirre says. There's outdoor fitness equipment for adults, community gardens, and at Rosedale Recreation Center, a playground that's entirely accessible for people in wheelchairs.

Adding in all the playground that have been renovated in the past 3 years, 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.

Caryn Earnst, senior advisor with KaBoom!, a non profit play advocate, says the District's initiative is part of a broader trend. In Chicago, Mayor Rahm Emanel announced an initiative to revamp 300 city playgrounds. In New York, Mayor Bloomberg has worked with public schools to open up schoolyards for neighborhood children to play after-hours.

"We know that people are more likely to move to areas with good park and playground resources, and more likely to stay if they're designed around families and kids," Earnst says. "It's a long-term strategy for improving neighborhoods, and that will improve economic development overall."

With the city's population and land values on the rise, the government will need to get creative about how it builds new green spaces. Jesús Aguirre 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.


The following playgrounds are currently undergoing Play DC renovations. Please note that, due to construction access restrictions, Harrison Recreation Center and Macomb Recreation Center are closed while their respective playgrounds are under construction.

Ward 1

  • Banneker Playground - 2500 Georgia Avenue NW
  • Harrison Playground - 1330 V Street NW (This site is closed)

Ward 2

  • Rose Park Playground - 2609 Dumbarton Street NW

Ward 3

  • Forest Hills Park Playground - 32nd & Chesapeake Streets NW
  • Key Playground - 5001 Dana Place NW
  • Macomb Playground - 3409 Macomb Street NW (This site is closed)
  • Newark Park Playground - 39th & Newark Streets NW
  • Palisades Playground - 5200 Sherrier Place NW

Ward 4

  • Emery Playground - 5801 Georgia Avenue NW
  • Fort Stevens Playground - 1327 Van Buren Street NW
  • Hamilton Playground - 1340 Hamilton Street NW
  • Takoma Park Playground - 300 Van Buren Street NW
  • Upshur Park Playground - 4300 Arkansas Avenue NW

Ward 5

  • Brentwood Playground - 2311 14th Street NE
  • Harry Thomas Sr. Playground - 1743 Lincoln Road NE
  • Turkey Thicket Playground - 1100 Michigan Avenue NE

Ward 6

  • Kennedy Playground - 1401 7th Street NW
  • Randall Playground - South Capitol & I Streets SW

Ward 7

  • Benning Park Playground - Southern Avenue & Fable Street SE
  • Hillcrest Playground - 3100 Denver Street SE
  • Neval Thomas Playground - 650 Anacostia Avenue NE

Ward 8

  • Douglass Playground - 2100 Stanton Terrace SE
  • Fort Greble Playground - Martin Luther King, Jr. Avenue & Elmira Street SW
  • Oxon Run Playground - 6th Street & Mississippi Avenue SE


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