A Win for Protecting the Basics, A Loss for Innovation and Equity
February 12, 2018
We recently received notice that the new Panhandle Playground design would not only include a sand element, but also would have a reduced "sand buffer" so as to enlarge the proposed sand play area. We all did a brief jump for joy while lamenting what it's taken to get here and what still needs to happen. Below is the correspondence we received, as well as a few responses.
Dear Folks Interested in the renovation of Panhandle Playground,
Based on community input, the design team has made the following updates to the design for the new playground (for those of you who participated in Workshop 3 and / or completed our online survey, we have combined Alternatives 2 and 3):
Includes swings for tots and older kids and sand play area
Rockers and carousel for tots removed
Tot spinner added
Reduced sand play area buffer allows for larger sand box
Converted majority of embankment area from planting to playable surface for kids
Please see the annotated plan for the final concept design attached.
Staff will be presenting the concept design to the Recreation and Park Commission Capital Committee on Wednesday, February 7 (hearing starts at 2 pm, City Hall Room 416) and, pending approval by the Commission, will move forward with detailed design in March 2018 in order to be able to open the new playground by November 2019. Public comment is welcome. Please let us know if you would like to speak in support of the new playground.
Thank you for your patience and support as we have worked over the past nine months to collect your ideas and move through several iterations with our design team. We are happy with this design and feel it is reflective of community desires.
We will continue to publish blog posts and email our project outreach list as we move into detailed design and construction documentation.
This update is also available as a blog post on the project page of the Rec and Park website: http://sfrecpark.org/panhandle-playground-final-concept-design-and-commission-hearing/
The following are some responses to the updated Panhandle Playground Design. These letters were sent to the SFRPD Commission to be entered into the record as they consider approval for the new design.
I am a special education teacher, early childhood parent educator, and a mother of two children. Along with a few other passionate parents, I have worked to promote the undeniable importance of open-ended, sensory play in our city playgrounds. We’ve created a website, an Instagram feed, a petition with over 750 signatures, and, most importantly, an informal, yet mighty, collective of likeminded individuals.
It has been difficult, at times, to ensure that our concerns were carefully understood. Sand is often spoken of as mere sensory play, but it enables so much more (representative/pretend play, collaborative play, solitary play, STEM exploration, fine motor and gross motor development, etc.).
It seemed as if SFRPD was very insistent upon the notion of removing all of the sand at Panhandle. After a series of meetings and a strong amount of advocacy, I was very excited to learn that the children of Panhandle will retain access to sand play. While I mourn the impending loss of the existing playground--with its rich abundance and quantity of sand enabling lots of learning, discovery, and gross motor risk-taking and landing--I am very appreciative to learn that a sensible compromise was attained. This is so important and, at the risk of sounding dramatic, how democracy is supposed to work.
More broadly, SFRPD is clearly learning that the decision to eliminate sand cannot and should not be taken lightly. We are not talking about which color to paint a seesaw; we are contemplating major decisions that will have significant impacts on the quality of resulting play experiences and thus the quality of children's lives.
I so appreciate the inclusion of a sand area for the Panhandle renovation. I appreciate Melinda Stockmann's ability to listen to many voices and to work, so diligently, to meet the needs of "outside play advocates' like myself (I reside in Oceanview) and the needs of the immediate Panhandle community. I have repeatedly expressed similar concerns about my own neighborhood playground (Merced Heights) and have been consistently disappointed in a year-long unwillingness to offer sensible compromises (small sand box or sand box with a cover or a raised sand table, etc). So while I don't wish to make Merced Heights a necessary focus of this letter, I mention it to contextualize my appreciation for Panhandle's new design! We “save the sanders” have tried to explain why a “case by case basis” (Mr. Ginsburg’s words) is ultimately an inequitable and inappropriate approach to these decisions due to a significant advocacy gap.
My only reservation is that I suspect families would prefer more slides as the existing playground has multiple slides and this seems fairly important for such a well-populated playground.
I thank you for reading and I thank you for supporting Melinda’s commitment, responsiveness, and hard work.
Protecting the Basics
My name is Zoe Corbyn and I have two children (4 and 2). We live close to the Panhandle and use the facilities regularly.
I have seen the final plan for the Panhandle playground. Park and Rec have done a lot to incorporate community feedback and I greatly appreciate that. I think the design is far better for it.
I do feel that our energies went to protecting the basics - for example sand and swings for older children were offered as a trade-off at one point (you could have one OR the other!) - rather than thinking outside the box about what a really innovative playground could truly be like. In particular, I don't think there are enough slides in the current design (there are I think two down from the four we have at the moment). I also think more thought could have gone into a climbing frame that connects to the slide area.
I also still maintain that sand should be incorporated as the major play surface rather than hived off. Where else do we expect children to get the experience of sand play? Few people have the luxury of a sand box in the back garden. However, I am pleased that Park and Rec listened to the community and made the sand area bigger. I hope we will continue to have a chance to have input as the more detailed design unfolds. I am especially interested in the specifics around the surface - and its safety.
Here's What It Took
Dear Melinda and the Recreation and Parks Commission,
Thank you for the update on Panhandle Playground. We are elated the department has listened to the community and to child development experts in including a sand element in the new playground design concept. We also greatly appreciate the reduction of the barriers so as to allow for the greatest number of elements chosen by the community. Thank you for being rational and allowing for compromise. Based on our interactions with you at meetings as well as the record of your internal emails, we believe that you personally had a lot to do with this sensible decision, and we thank you for that.
At the same time, we are disheartened at the level of advocacy it has taken for the department to consider common sense ideas by those who work in the field of what is good for children. When designing a playground, this type of input should be one of the first sought out, not an afterthought. In case you weren’t aware, here is what it took a small group of parents who work full time and have multiple small children to be able to enact this victory for children around the Panhandle:
Attendance at 4 community meetings (in addition to other playgrounds)
Reliable computer/internet access to participate in 3 online surveys
The ability to take time off of work to meet with district supervisors and speak at commission hearings and PROSAC meetings
Access to childcare from a partner or relative in order to be fully present at community meetings (often held at the busiest time for working families)
Multiple evening meetings and countless email exchanges between Save the Sand sympathizers to synthesize Rec and Park’s changing narrative and coordinate our response
Design and distribution of a petition to Save the Sand in SF, which was signed by 760 people to date
Design and maintenance of a fully functioning website, updated with the latest information from SFRPD
Many hours writing and publishing 12 blog posts and multiple social media posts to make others aware of what was happening and what is at stake
Access to reporters of 3 different publications to share these concerns with a wider audience
Three public records requests and countless hours reading over the resulting documents in order to connect the dots of SFRPD’s motives and the moving target of their public statements.
For some of us, the agency and authority to publicly question and disagree with SFRPD staff without our entire race being judged as noisy, disrespectful, or threatening by our actions.
Had we not had access to even one aspect of this list, it’s possible that SFRPD would have gone on to exclude sand from the conversation or make it appear as though the community is not interested in having access to sand. We cannot underestimate the advantage that the last item has given us throughout this process.
Our greatest concern is that there are several communities that do not have all of these advantages, and may have more immediate personal or community needs that take precedent. Because of this, they are being left out of this important conversation about the future of their children and what resources they will have access to as they grow up. We are not just advocating for the children in the Panhandle area to have access to sand. We are advocating for the children of other Save the Sand members in under-resourced neighborhoods. We are advocating for the friendships that are forged between our children as they build a tunnel through the sand at an impromptu playground meet up anywhere in the city. We are advocating for any child in SF schools to have access to play-based development of STEM concepts that connect to what they learn in school. We are advocating for any child with development/social/sensory challenges to have access to this inclusive element.
Our goals remain the same as they were when our group first formed:
An accessible sand element ought to be seriously considered and offered as a possibility in every redesigned playground with sensible solutions for maintenance.
The benefits of sand play ought to be clearly and concisely communicated to community members during community meetings and planning workshops.
We are glad to see that this has happened at Panhandle Playground. We will continue to pursue these goals in order to ensure they are met at all SFRPD playgrounds undergoing renovation.