Apr 11, 2010

Does our playground deserve a D?

I was surprised, and dissapointed, to learn that the Panhandle's playground earned a D in the 2010 San Francisco Playground Report Card.

I'd first like to encourage families in the community to keep using and enjoying the playground. Don't let the D grade turn you off. Speaking as a non-parent, I think it's a popular destination in a beautiful setting. Yesterday morning, under threatening grey skies, dozens of kids and parents visited the playground, and no one seemed to have problems with safety or cleanliness. (The Park Stewards were out for Saturday work day, working to beautify and nurture the plantings around perimeter of the playground. Report coming soon).

I'd also like to compare the grades for the surrounding parks. I grabbed a part of a map showing neighborhood parks (from the 2008 report), and superimposed each park's 2010 grade. The result shows that neighborhood families have nearby "A" grade playground at Alamo Square to the east, and at Rossi and Sharon Arts (i.e., Koret) to the west. But, sadly, our D grade for the Panhandle is the worst in this square-mile or so of San Francisco.

More important context is that San Francisco has been upgrading playgrounds. Only 13% of playgrounds earned a D or F in this year's report card. That's down from 21% in 2008.

That leads up to my questions:
  • Does the playground deserve a D grade? What do neighborhood parents think of conditions, and what would they change?
  • What is in store for the Panhandle Playground? If it's not on the list for renovation now, when will it be?
  • What are the most important park-wide issues (such as tree care, turf care, multi-use path, bad behavior) that affect your ability to access and enjoy the playground? 
  • Who are the community leaders for this playground?
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  1. Dale, thanks for the thoughtful post. I also think D is too harsh but there are some things that need improvement.

    I think generally if the equipment had an upgrade and the litter was kept in check that would help a lot.

    The equipment is certainly functional but it is also showing its age. The tram thing (for lack of a better description) is worn out. The padding / mat areas are pretty worn and the wood itself is pretty weathered. I think koret and alamo must have had some grading advantage with more modern equipment. Maybe we can get a grant or do a fund raising drive for an equipment update.

    Regarding cleanliness the bush removal was a good step. That, and moving the trash cans outside has helped with the rat problems. But there still seems to be a general litter problem (and lately some needles!). If each user picked up their trash and one extra item that would help a lot.

    Other than those two items maybe we could get some little rakes and have the kids work/play picking up the eucalyptus leaves and caps out of the sand - I think that would cosmetically help the sandy sections.

  2. Hi Dale: as a parent in the neighborhood, I would definitely give the playground at least a C or D grade. I rarely take my two year old daughter to the panhandle, as I find it dangerous and in need of lots of fixings.

    First, the overall design: Alamo Square and Rossi have recently been upgraded, and you can see the differences. In the world of playground design, the panhandle is out of date and old-fashioned to the point of boredom. There are new and improved playground structures that offer kids more interesting and better suited play areas. There's nothing wrong with a slide and swing set, but there is virtually no climbing aparatus in the playground, no up/down structures (see-saw), and the limited space is poorly utilized. It also doesn't age well with the child - an older child is not going to be interested in the majority of activities in the playground.

    The 'train' thing has been broken for years, and even if it worked, it's nearly impossible for a child to use. The safety mats below the tire swing are broken, with a large hole perfect for catching feet. The swings are uneven and the waterfountains clog. And finally, let's not forget the large sign identifying the wood as having been treated with arsenic, and a recommendation not to let your children touch their mouths after playing on the structure. On a playground! Wooden playstructures are almost unheard of now, with better material being used that doesn't have to be treated with arsenic to weather-proof.

    This is a very busy playground with a huge amount of traffic. It should be a showpiece playground like Koret, (only smaller), as it serves a diverse and large community. Getting rid of the plantings that encouraged rats was a good step, but overall the playground needs a complete renovation and redesign to fix the problems. And this takes money, of course, and leadership.

    My understanding is the the playground is not on the repair list because it was renovated (15? 10 years ago?) and sponsored by Saturn car company. But the D grade might help in pushing the issue to the front of the line.

    Marla Kadlecek

  3. The main problem with the playground (from the perspective of a parent), is the enormous sand pit. There is nowhere for very small kids to crawl or walk. Its too hard for them to learn to walk on the sand and the asphalt around the pit is too rough. Newer playground at Rossi, Koret, Alamo Square or the new one at Hamilton all have a soft rubber surface that is great for toddlers to walk on. Parents can easily follow them on the rubberized surface and there is no need to worry about the getting hurt. Who knows, maybe from the kids perspective they like all that sand (they certainly like to eat it), but from a parents perspective its just easier to follow them on the rubber surface compared to the sand pit. As others have noted, the play structure is too old and not as useful as the newer structures at other playgrounds, plus there are no good structures for tiny crawling babies (Duboce Park is a good one for babies).

    The other thing about the Panhandle is the southern walkway. It's too rough and uneven for strollers (and for little kids learning to walk). I prefer the northern path, but then we risk getting run over by bikers.

  4. I'd like to add my concerns about the southern ('walkers only) path's pavement being so rough - does anyone know of any plans to re-pave? I risk the bikers rather than deal with it, and I live on Page street!