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It would be easy to be a cynical parent in my little neighborhood near San Diego’s Lake Murray.
As in recession-weary neighborhoods everywhere, the public schools are so under-funded they have trouble affording teachers; the PTAs are forced to nickel-and-dime parents at every turn just to afford now-luxury instruction like physical education and art.
The neighborhood library is literally falling down, yet the closest it’s come to a renewal is a weathered architectural rendering that has been posted outside for several years.
But then something positively redemptive happened.
After three years of hard volunteer work, selling T-shirts, water bottles and fun-run admissions, hosting restaurant fund-raisers and silent auctions, applying (often unsuccessfully) for grants, working with city and county officials, and drawing and re-drawing plans — my little ‘burb found a way to design and fund a new, amazing, fun playground. One that will be accessible to kids of all ages and abilities.
Accessibility is a big part of the new city playground now being readied for Lake Murray Community Park. In surveying the neighbors about what features they might like in a new playground, besides elements like shade and swings, the volunteers learned there were several kids in the neighborhood who can’t use traditional playgrounds. Regular slides bother kids with cochlear implants because of the static charge they emit. The neighborhood kids with leg braces and wheelchairs can’t even get into the sandpit that serves as the current playground site.
So factored into the nature-inspired design, along with federally-mandated ADA improvements, are “inclusive play” elements – a static-free rollerslide, a spinner seat contraption that combines wheelchair accessibility with sensory stimulation, and strategically placed rubber surfacing ensuring everyone gets a chance to play.
That’s the kind of stuff that makes me so proud of this playground. To think that every kid in my neighborhood will get a shot at that most basic of childhood experiences: playing on a playground with friends.
Now, for those of you with your cynicism still intact. Why didn’t the city of San Diego build the playground on its own, you ask. The reality is the city funding wasn’t there and wasn’t going to be for some time. So with the city’s blessing, the neighbors who watched the existing playground diminish under disrepair decided to raise the money on their own. You might call it impatience, but I think it had more to do with wanting to be part of the solution rather than sitting around complaining. Be the change you want to see in the world and all that.
The biggest challenge in this process of course was raising the money. It took longer than anyone thought. The money was found in small change and big chunks. The community came up with $185,000 in grants, individual donations and business sponsorships, while $212,000 in development impact fees were allocated. A number of services have been donated, and the city’s Park and Recreation Department is handling the project management.
The years of work reached a satisfying milestone Wednesday night. Before the San Carlos/Lake Murray Recreation Council, the final playground design was presented. The rec council is advisory to the city council, and could vote whether or not to recommend the design, or to seek modifications. After an hour-long presentation by the playground committee, city staff, the playground designer and the landscape architect, the rec council board lent the design its unanimous approval. The audience — packed with playground supporters — applauded and cheered like schoolchildren. It was awesome.
Now for the really fun part: ordering playground equipment. Pulling out the dirty sand, concrete footings and graffiti-laden remnants of the old playground. Rallying the neighborhood once again for a community-build of the new playground. And then, sometime this summer, watching kids check out that shiny, hard-earned playground for the first time.
I can’t wait.
Jennifer McEntee is a San Diego-based freelance journalist and member of the Lake Murray Playground Project committee. You can email her at email@example.com.
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