“I envision using these [yet to be developed] standards to create a trade-off conversation with the public on taking up valuable playground real estate for a sand box.”
“My understanding is that we want to use our official community outreach process to discuss tradeoffs of sand.”
-- Project Managers for SF Rec. and Park Department,
in internal emails
We have succeeded in getting sand into the conversation. Sand is currently being considered as an element in the redesign of Panhandle Playground, and is rumored to be presented as an option at the Alice Chalmers Playground meeting this coming weekend. This is huge, and all thanks to your fierce advocacy.
But of course, there's a catch. SFRPD is attempting to pit people who feel passionately that kids should have access to rich, open sand play against those who want other essential playground elements, such as swings and structures. Citing non-existent sand "guidelines", SFRPD is promoting the false narrative that a sand element would have to be surrounded by concrete, bushes, and more concrete, thus taking up valuable playground real estate. They are trying to tell you that a playground simply cannot include sand, a structure, and swings.
"[Sand should] include 20’ buffer from synthetic turf and 40’ buffer from poured in place [rubber surface] on template - this will allow community members to get a sense for tradeoffs/see what would be swapped out."
-- Project Manager for SFRPD, in internal emails
By their own admission, there are currently no city guidelines for sand in playgrounds. They have made up this 40 foot buffer guideline based on what the maintenance department prefers, and it has not gone through any official vetting or public hearings. But by using these made up guidelines, they have managed to completely segregate the sand area and make it look as unappealing as a heap of garbage.
You want sand? Go play in that dark corner over there!
Additionally, they are attempting to push through the design process as fast as possible so as to be able to use these unofficial, unappealing guidelines and hopefully avoid having to include sand altogether.
"We have a handful of playground projects currently in planning/design, and our mandate is to move forward with them as quickly as possible. I haven’t heard that any projects should go on hold while the [sand] guidelines are being developed, so we’re coming up with work‐arounds for these projects."
-- Project Manager for SFRPD, in internal emails
The scary part is this - it's working. At the Panhandle Playground meeting, parents and community members understandably didn't want to choose between sand, swings, and structures. Many folks felt the little sandbox was not worth the space it took up, and decided to vote in favor of the design without sand.
Midway through the voting process
Please take the online survey for the PanhandlePlayground, vote for one of the options that includes sand (Option 1 or 2), and when prompted, tell SFRPD that they will not force you to choose between essential playground elements. Tell them to get rid of the wasted space around the sandbox and replace it with the missing element. If you want to get technical, tell them you won't choose between your child's cognitive and linguistic development in sand or their motor development on swings and structures. If you want to get even fancier, you can tell them that sensory/imaginative/constructive play in sand is just as important as gross motor/proprioceptive play on swings and structures. Just let it be known somehow that sand is important to you, and their fake guidelines and false "trade-offs" won't stop you from demanding the playgrounds that your children and your community deserve.
And if you're still skeptical, see Option #4 below that we created - sand, swings, and structure, all in one playground.
The December 16 Community Meeting about Alice Chalmers Playground was a step forward in getting SFRPD to offer sand as an option in playground design. Our group brought 3 representatives but there were other sand supporters unrelated to our group present as well.
Sadly, once again SFRPD pitted sand against a highly popular element rather than one scoring lower in survey results (which did include sand as a choice for the first time). Here are the two options presented during the meeting based on SFRPD's interpretation of the results.
Below are the results from the survey. In the survey respondents could choose 7 elements from the group below. Notice that a spinner is in the corner of both Option A and Option B, but rather than put a sand box (which 56% of respondents chose as one of their top 7 choices) in one corner and the climbing structure in the other, SFRPD presented options with an element that scored less than 40% popularity, a spinner.
During the meeting, guidelines relating to sand were eluded to, but when questioned, no firm answers were provided. There is still a push to build a giant barrier around the sand pit, but in the Alice Chalmers design it appears SFRPD has backed away (slightly) from a 20-40 foot buffer as proposed in the Panhandle.
The meeting concluded after Supervisor Safai, whose Chief of Staff is a sand supporter (thanks Cathy!), spoke to the 6-8 people present and stated his support for sand and interest in another meeting to have an updated design presented. Alice Chalmers has another survey, it is open until January 3. Click here to participate, and don't believe the false narrative.