A few weeks ago I shared a podium in Brooklyn with a group of ten landscape designers--none of them over five feet tall. But in describing their work, these fifth graders from P.S./M.S. 394 in the Crown Heights neighborhood of Brooklyn were all business.
They were there to open their new playground and talk about their role in designing it. Their articulate, from-the-heart descriptions of the design process and what it meant to them--and their eagerness to cut the ribbon and begin enjoying the fruits of their labors-- reminded my of why I always try to avoid following a child at a speaker's podium!
The playground we were inaugurating was one of more than two hundred the City of New York is renovating for schools and their surrounding neighborhoods. The program is part of Mayor Bloomberg's PlaNYC 2030 - a comprehensive green plan that includes ten key approaches to making the city greener, more livable, and more climate-smart. As it seeks to expand its park system, the city has adopted The Trust for Public Land's standard that no child should be more than a 10-minute walk from a park, garden, or playground. By intent, many of New York's new school playgrounds are being built in neighborhoods with no other park facilities.
For all the playgrounds, the design process is incorporated into the student's curriculum. They measure the space, create plans, survey other playgrounds, and negotiate with their fellow students and community members about what should be in the playground and who can use it after school hours. Trees, play structures, raised garden beds, running tracks, water features, and basketball courts all find their way into the plans. The joy the kids take in the process--and their sense of ownership in the outcome--ensure that these playgrounds will be loved and well cared for.
As I helped cut the ribbon and watched the children pour onto their new playground, it didn't take much to imagine them as tomorrow's landscape architects, entrepreneurs, and community leaders.