Sunday, June 6, 2021

A Teachable Moment


Some thoughts today about parking.

I’m thrilled that the new Play for All Playground at Blandair is bringing people to my side of town from all over Columbia/HoCo. I don’t think that Play for All means that we all have to be there at the same time, though. As I opined last week:

When I encouraged you all to visit the new playground at Blandair I didn’t mean you should all come on the same day. Really. We drove by there yesterday and it was wildly overcrowded. Not only was every parking space filled, but people were parked on the shoulder on both sides. I don’t mean to promote exclusivity but I do think there’s a limit of how many children can play on a playground successfully. 

Of course it’s new and that adds to its appeal. But maybe they should prohibit that “creative overflow parking” in order to keep the playground experience safe. In the meantime if you have special needs children and/or children with sensory issues, you’ll definitely want to choose off hours to avoid meltdowns. 

As an early childhood educator I am used to contemplating the needs of young children in a variety of ways. One of them is making sure that a classroom has enough square feet to accommodate the number of children in a class. That doesn’t mean simply “will they fit in the room?” It is crucial that children have enough physical space to move, play, interact, be able to have some quiet ‘down time’, and so on. When you don’t have enough space (have too many children in the space) you consistently see the negative impact on the students.

I’d like to suggest that the same is true with playgrounds. I don’t know who is in charge of calculating it, but there has to be someone, somewhere who figures out how many children a play space can accommodate safely. If you have been to an overcrowded playground you know that it is harder for kids to play and much easier for accidents and injuries to occur. It’s incredibly difficult to keep track of one’s  own children on an overcrowded playground, too. Add to this the expectation that this particular playground is meant to accommodate children with special needs and you can see that overcrowding comes with the additional hazards of excessive noise and stimulation. 

So: parking.

What if we decided to agree that the number of official parking spaces allotted for the playground is a sort of guideline for how many people the play space can accommodate? Note: I do not know if this is how parking spaces were allocated. It’s my own hypothesis.

It seems to me that this is like a self-assessing activity. If you come to the playground and all the parking spaces are full, that means the playground is at capacity and you should come back at another time. It is not an invitation to park on the side of the road. There are other play spaces in Blandair Park worth visiting. 

Is this so difficult to ask people to respect? An overcrowded playground is less fun, less safe, less accessible and less inclusive. Of course it is disappointing to arrive and discover the parking lot is full. I get that. Perhaps that’s an opportunity to talk about how we all care about one another by respecting boundaries that keep our friends and neighbors safe.

It’s also an opportunity to visit the other Blandair play spaces and, while you are at it, get a snowball at Pete’s.

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