Upon walking into the Panhandle Playground community workshop, families and community members were greeted with a lovely surprise - a comment card with a topic we had not been presented with as of yet:
Of all the community meetings and surveys for all the playgrounds that are undergoing redesign through the Let'sPlaySF initiative, this was the first time that we know of that sand had been proposed as an option. The project manager went on to explain openly that SFRPD had not intended to include sand in the redesign of the Panhandle Playground, but due to interest expressed by the community, they were reconsidering and collecting feedback on sand preferences.
Our celebrations were tampered a bit by the bizarre new sand "regulations" that SFRPD then tried to mention in passing - any sand element would need to be surrounded by a 20 foot buffer of concrete which is then surrounded by another 20 feet of artificial turf. This would mean that sand would need to be at least 40 feet away from any rubber play surface and thus 40 feet away from any play structure.
When someone tried to ask a question about these regulations, the presenter quickly cut her off and told her to save all questions for the small group discussions with the landscape architects. We later found out these architects actually knew nothing about where these regulations originated or who was even writing them. So we will continue to press SFRPD in order to determine why a tiny sand element requires a large portion of the playground to be paved over. We recently filed an official Immediate Disclosure Request to SFRPD in order to obtain any documents or communication regarding the development of this new proposed regulation.
The news from McLaren Park Playground was not as positive. A final design concept was presented, and no mention of sand was made at the meeting until one of the leaders of Save The Sand SF specifically asked whether sand was being considered as an option. The response was similar to one we had received by email - the community has not expressed an interest in sand (of course neglecting to mention that the community has never been asked to express any opinion on it.) Various presenters provided several conflicting responses about whether sand could even be considered - from "Rec and Park does not like to maintain sand" to "There is no sand ban" to "You should be happy, SFRPD is now considering sand!"
The news from last week's meetings was equal parts exciting and maddening. It showed us that all of our efforts are having an impact, and SFRPD is finally paying attention to the comments and desires of families, early childhood experts, and concerned citizens. But it shouldn't take a blog, flyers, an Instagram page, a petition with over 700 signatures to date, meetings with district supervisors, and an extensive word of mouth campaign in order to have sand considered as a potential option at a single playground. What about communities where families don't have the time or ability to go to community meetings, don't feel empowered to question or confront SFRPD representatives, or don't know about the developmental benefits that sand play can provide? In a city of great inequities, the thought that only the well-off, outspoken communities are given the option to decide whether their kids have access to a resource that enhances their cognitive, social and linguistic abilities is somewhat sickening.
Just because the fight to SaveTheSandSF is beginning to succeed at the Panhandle Playground doesn't mean it should end there. Help us continue the fight to allow ALL communities the opportunity to decide whether they want to Save The Save in their playgrounds.
Click on the "How to Help" page for upcoming community events and online surveys regarding these and other playgrounds. And don't forget about the most important voices of all, the users of these playground experiences - the kids. Check out one of the design ideas at the kid's table, showing a playground consisting of "all sand":