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A New Playground for Tenney Park

In 2017 the playground within Tenney Park, near the lagoon and shelter house, will be re-imagined and the play equipment will be replaced. I've been anticipating this, as have others. Tenney Park is historically and geographically unique and many people feel strongly that this is an exciting opportunity.

The City of Madison Parks Department maintains 174 playgrounds (more playgrounds per capita than any other city!) and landscape architects lead the process of replacing playgrounds. For Reynolds Park, and for Tenney Park, Sarah Lerner has been the point person for neighbors and leads the city's planning.

Playgrounds are just one part of a larger conversation about PLAY that cross-cuts through a bunch of fields in addition to landscape architecture - physical education, design, public art, environmental education, childhood development, human psychology, urban planning and probably more - and I've wished I had infinite time and resources so that I could skip around and try out some new career paths. Instead I created Madison Playground Review so that I could dip my toe in the waters while exploring the city with my kids.

In an earlier post, The Potential of Play Spaces, I admitted that writing about about playgrounds does make me feel boring, in that Mommy Blogger way, partially because so many playgrounds are so darn boring. 

But if you believe in the value of public space and city parks, you feel good in nature, and you get a kick out of innovative and artful design, playgrounds are part of the solution. 

Most playgrounds provide a pretty standard set of structures. Kids expect them and aren't complaining, at least not outright. However, experts in these things explain that there are actually fewer injuries, and kids are more engaged and getting more out of the experience, when the play spaces are different. 

And there are in fact lots of examples of different. A search for 'natural,' 'innovative,' 'inspired,' or 'cool' playground' to see some great images. Or check my Examples of Play Spaces Around the World.

Play spaces around the world today are providing public experiences with innovative design and nurturing the notion that we all need more playfulness. The thing is, the U.S. has a lot of rules and regulations. 

Which is how Sarah Lerner began the public meeting with neighbors interested in Tenney Playground's remodel. She has worked for the City for many years and is very familiar with the policies in place and why they work for the greater good. However, she is also an expert in landscape architecture and knows just how special Tenney Park is, and how ripe Madison is for an innovative, inspired, cool playground. She is excited because the neighborhood is also excited and ready to work with her.

The Tenney-Lapham Neighborhood Association created a survey to assess what neighbors want in area parks. From over 100 responses, the top priority was to "construct a natural play area or ‘living’ playground in Tenney Park." (Survey results are here).

When I asked my kids what they wanted to see at a new Tenney Park playground, they gave me these suggestions:

-A little bowling alley
-A Merry-go-round
-A Teeter-Totter
-A May Pole (Why didn't I think of this!!!?! We could really use it!)

In reality, the sky is not the limit. The City has contracts with vendors and, based on the budget allowed for each project, a couple of options are sketched out after neighbors have been asked for general preferences. In the case of Tenney Park, several designs will be presented for public input in the next couple months before construction begins in 2017. These designs will respond to the concerns and ideas brought to the initial meeting (it was on November 16th at Whitehorse Middle School) and present a spectrum of options.

So stay tuned for more information so you can voice your opinion! And spread the word. This opportunity will not come up again soon so let's make Tenney Playground all we want it to be, for the kids and for the neighborhood and for the love of play.

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