Click on this picture to go to the AJC article.
Tomorrow morning will bring an article in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution on Play Atlanta and yours truly. It signals the beginning of a refreshed and recharged agenda for Play Atlanta (née the Atlanta Taskforce on Play).
Since I first began this journey so many years ago with the Cunard Memorial Playground project at John Howell Park in Virginia-Highland much has changed. At first I saw building playgrounds as a way for communities to come together. The experience at that first playground project was so emotionally charged and powerful as people from all over the city came together to support a grieving father and husband. I remember going down to the playground early on the Sunday morning the day after it was built. As I sat there letting the beautiful memories of people united for the common good wash over me I noticed families showing up with breakfast picnics. "My Daddy built this playground for ME!" was the common refrain. Those children will know for their entire lives that they were loved. And, what was once a big slimey pit of molded playground equipment became a beautiful, nature and play-filled, beloved community space.
What was to become Play Atlanta began with the hope of holding up a friend, morphed into an interest in community building, and, in time, became a life's work fueled by the discovery of the power of play...with the power of community still a vital part. Here's a peek back at a video from 2007 that won us first prize in a national video competition at KaBOOM!.
Click on the image above to see the fun video about play in our city.
Many things in the video have changed. Atlanta has a new Commissioner of Parks and Recreation. We have an amazing skatepark. The closed recreation centers have been reborn as Centers of Hope and are open. Some of the schools have new playgrounds - some do not. Woodruff Park where the Ambassadors ride their Segways in the video is now the home to a new Atlanta iconic spot - the ATL playground. Park Pride is going strong and working on the the Parks + Play theme for their upcoming greenspace conference in March 2016. And, almost weekly, a national or international newspaper or magazine runs an article on just how important it is to have play in a child's life.
But, one thing has not changed much - in spite of amazing new playgrounds in our city, children still do not spend enough time outside playing. There are just too many barriers between the home and the playground. This is why an expanded focus of Play Atlanta is on putting play where the children are. It doesn't have to be a big playground. It has to be easily accessible. I think of the fun play rock at the corner of Peachtree Street and 10th Street in Midtown Atlanta. And, the badminton net beside it. An empty lot. A little bit of play.
Let's create an Atlanta where there are opportunities for kids (of all ages) to play at the drop of a hat. These new communities we are designing and building - like the one at the old GM plant - well, let's design them as if children are a valued part of our society. Let's create fun spots to play everywhere, especially in the unexpected places. I am currently working with the District of Columbia on Playable Art DC, a design competition like the one that resulted in the ATL in Woodruff Park. We are getting playable art pieces put on 3 (maybe 4) street corners in Washington, DC. Not parks. Street corners. The impact will be something to behold and I hope we will do more of this kind of thing in Atlanta.
I vividly remember the Stride Rite shoe store in Baltimore, Maryland, where I was born. There was a slide that went from the street into the store. Guess where we went to buy all of our shoes? We moved to Connecticut when I was four, and yet I remember that slide as if it were yesterday. We can do so much more to make our city a child-friendly city by putting play all over the place...a little bit here, a little bit there. We have plans underway at Play Atlanta to make that easy for developers, companies and organizations to do. I can't wait to see where it will take us and I love dreaming of the power it will hold for our children when we do.