Cambridge Common Playground Review - Part 1 - Braving the Crowds

Cambridge Common Playground Review - Part 1 - Braving the Crowds

This is the first part in a series looking at the newly-renovated playground in Cambridge Common and examining the concerns of parents and caregivers, particularly those with children in the "tot" age range that the former playground served.

For a number of local parents, the re-opening of the Alexander Kemp Playground last week capped a summer of anticipation with disappointment.

As I live closest to the Common out of my group of friends, I was regularly asked all summer as to whether the park had opened.

“Not yet,” I’d say and give the latest update.

“It looks like it’s going to be really fun,” one of us would say.

Then last week, it happened – the park opened.

And, after months of talking about how fun the park “looked,” I learned that the appearance might be the main redeeming quality of the renovated tot lot – which is no longer a tot lot at all. (And I’ll get to that tomorrow.)

“It looks like it should be an installation at the Children’s Museum,” a friend of mine said as we tried to enjoy the park with our toddlers.

The park is beautiful. It’s something you almost expect to be charged to use. The natural color scheme, the landscaping, the white sand, the creative architecture – all combine to compose a wonderful-looking space.

Creativity appears to be the theme of the park, from the carved pirate ship to the wooden blocks to the toddler slide structure with a club-house feel and what can only be described as a small rock climbing wall.

The park seems to push the boundaries of what you would expect from a playground, which is admirable – but the question seems to be, “Have they pushed it too far?”

Over the last week, I’ve talked to a number of neighborhood parents. A lot of the sentences started with, “In theory, that would be great…” Or “You’d think they would have thought about that possibility...” And above all, “It really seems like it was designed by someone that didn’t really know anything about kids…”

The crowd

One of the biggest issues that kept parents at bay in the opening week was the crowd. The number of people at the playground easily topped 200. The park was a chaotic. Instead of it being an enjoyable relaxing experience, taking my toddler to the park was stressful.

While my daughter and I regularly spent two or more hours at the park last fall (when my daughter was not nearly as mobile as she is now), it was challenging to spend even half an hour at the new playground. We tried different times and different days, but it was packed each time. Several other mothers said they either didn’t bother trying the park because it looked too overwhelming or that they tried it once, but won’t be going back for quite some time.

That is likely temporary. While I believe the park will probably be busier for the foreseeable future, I doubt it will be packed to extent it has been as the “newness” factor wears off. The new school year for Cambridge Public Schools begins today, and I expect that should temper the crowd slightly, at least during the school day.

Over the course of the week, I will be taking a look at other issues that are not so easily remediable – especially considering the obvious cost that went into the construction of the playground.

Tomorrow: The Age Range Problem