New York City’s Riskiest Park – play:groundNYC

CVPRD is excited to share another blog post series, this time showcasing different unconventional and extraordinary parks. We’ll be taking the next few weeks to research and highlight different park designs that are truly outside of the box. This week we’ll be diving into what is coined New York City’s Riskiest Park, enjoy!

What is the first thing that comes to mind when you hear the words “risk” and “park” in the same sentence? It may be safe to assume that most people might feel uncomfortable by this pairing of words, certainly they would not assume that a risky park would be a place suitable for children. Well, a group of parents, teachers, and artists decided to challenge this common though by opening a park known as “play:groundNYC” in New York City, where children are encouraged to engage in self-directed play. Where risk is not seen as an inherently bad thing that one must avoid, but a critical part in children’s ability to assess and understand their own risk-taking behaviors.

Children freely exploring creative play at NYCs play:ground.
Credit: Marj Kleinman

Play:groundNYC is a 50,000 sq. ft. park where children are able to explore, destroy, create, and build freely – without parental interference. In this unique park, children have opportunities to explore a variety of materials including nails, saws, hammers, tires, paint, wood, and fabric. You may be thinking to yourself that this park sounds like a catastrophe waiting to happen, parents aren’t allowed inside, and children have free reign over all these potentially dangerous materials? Don’t worry, there are playworkers that watch over the children and help them distinguish the difference between a risk and a hazard. 

A Playworker (orange vest) oversees the actions of a young child safely exploring being destructive. 
Credit: Marj Kleinman

 Parents have often expressed being skeptical about the concept at first, of course nobody wants to intentionally put their child in any kind of danger. However, many parents have realized that this creative kind of play is similar to their own childhoods, the difference being that their children and now exploring in a controlled environment. This kind of play is incredibly beneficial for child development, the carefully curated environment allows children to experience risk and excitement (an important sensory need) without truly being in any danger. While parents are not allowed to hover over children in the park, they watch from a distance not too far away, and if anything truly dangerous were to appear – a playworker would step in to help guide and educate.   

The concept of adventure playgrounds seen in play:groundNYC is not new. It was in 1943 in Copenhagen, Denmark when the first adventure playground came to life. While there are 3 different adventure playgrounds in NYC, they have a hard time becoming popular due to parental fear. However, many parents who have given adventure playgrounds a chance have witnessed how these parks can be powerful learning environments – encouraging children to strengthen and develop “the 4Cs,” communication, collaboration, critical thinking, and creativity. If you knew there was a place where your kids could explore and develop critical skills in a controlled risky environment, would you give it a chance? 

People forget that children are people. You feel that you have to show them everything and that your way is right. And I think it’s incredibly valuable to remember that kids have agency, and they have rights, and they need space and tools and support, but they will make, for the most part, the right choice.

Rebekah Faulkner, executive director of play:groundNYC

Watch NBCs inside look on one of NYCs adventure parks here:

If you’re looking to read more about adventure parks, below are links to the sources used to create this blog post.

No Parents Allowed: Kids Explore, Take Risks at Junkyard Playgrounds.

The Junk Playgrounds of New York City.

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