At HAB45 we know that outdoor play is healthy for young children and we promote active play however we can. But we also know that when it comes to access to quality parks, it matters where a families lives. Many communities in Contra Costa do not have equitable access to safe, appealing, beautiful parks where young children can play. This means that many families and their children do not have the same opportunities to lead healthy lives.
Over the last few years, we’ve partnered with strong parent advocates sponsored by First 5 Contra Costa to assess parks and playspaces across Contra Costa County. Through this work, we’ve learned that it’s true that parks in low-income neighborhoods tend to be lower in quality: namely, less safe with fewer amenities and poorer maintenance.
HAB45 and the parent advocate partners have identified key characteristics that make great parks and we’ve used these criteria to assess parks across Contra Costa. Naming these criteria helps us to articulate our vision for healthy, equitable parks. In the first installment of this two-part series, we list five characteristics that make a park a great one for young children and their families.
Community safety is number one on our list, and we bet it’s on yours as well. All families with young children should be able to walk to and play in their local parks without fearing injury or violence. Even if a park has great play equipment, if a parent or child doesn’t feel safe there, understandably they aren’t going to go. Through our park assessments, families frequently cited lack of safety as a reason they would not take young children to nearby parks and playgrounds. Community safety is a complex issue related to a tangle of underlying conditions: income inequality, lack of educational and employment opportunity, divestment of public resources…the list goes on. There are solutions to make communities safer that go beyond law enforcement and that take into account the dignity of all people. We call upon decision-makers to take an innovative, public health approach to preventing community violence, so all community members have the same opportunities for outdoor play, physical activity, and health.
Parks should be joyful spaces for little kids and their families. Play equipment should not only be safe to use and well-maintained in order to prevent injury. It should also be innovative, age-appropriate, and fun. Themed elements, public interactive art, gardens, and free-standing activity panels are all great additions to a park. We love a good tot lot too. In partnership with local parent advocates, HAB45 has identified and mapped parks in Pittsburg, Antioch, and Bay Point with great, age-appropriate play equipment for little ones.
Seating is an important park amenity, especially for parents. It’s also nice to have for mothers who are breastfeeding their babies. Benches and picnic tables located in shaded or partially shaded areas are great for community gatherings and for parents to use while they watch their children play. Adding some benches to a park is an easy win for cities looking to improve local park quality.
What’s a parent to do when his little one needs to use the restroom at the park and there’s no restroom to be found? Or maybe there’s a restroom, but it’s locked or in disrepair (gross). Working, available, clean, and well-maintained restrooms are essential to a great park. Access to restroom will encourage more community members to use the park for parties, gatherings, and community events, thus increasing the safety of the park by increasing the sense of neighborhood ownership and the number of eyes on the park.
Here’s a good question to ask a five-year-old: Q: What do you, a flower, and a dog have in common? A: We’re all living beings that need water to live. Clean, well maintained, working water fountains are a vital component to any healthy space. Staying hydrated is important for kids and adults alike, especially when playing in the heat. Availability of an appealing water source also ensures that when thirst strikes, there’s an onsite healthy alternative to sugary drinks.
That’s it for now. Stay tuned for Part II of “10 Things That Make a Great Park” where we list our last five great park criteria.
Photo credits:Photo 1: www.essence.com/sites/default/files/images/embed/woman-holding-child-hand.jpg; Photo 2: www.cedarworks.com; Photo 3 http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bench; Photo 4: www.coloprecast.com/?page_id=203; Photo 5: http://purewatervision.com/camelbak-clear-review/