My wife Jackie and I were recently discussing our upcoming move back to Manchester and while talking about some rentals she began asking me the walking distances to nearby playgrounds. The question seemed easy enough to answer – until I tried. It seems that our beloved city of Manchester does not have many “free–standing” playgrounds. (What I mean by “free-standing” is a playground that isn’t at a school. School yard playgrounds, although nice, are subject to school-day restrictions and are therefore not available to the public for a good part of the day during much of the year).
According to the city’s website, there are 47 parks in Manchester with 20 of them having playgrounds. So less than half, (42.5 percent), of Manchester’s parks have playgrounds. I will adjust that number because Stanton Park, which is across from Veteran’s Park, is a small swath of land that could not safely house a playground. So realistically we are talking 20 playgrounds in 46 parks, which equals 43.5 percent … not much better. While parks alone are a great thing that often offer space for kids to run and play, they do not equal the value of a playground. Of the 20 playgrounds in the city, not all of them are what I would consider “neighborhood playgrounds.”
There are quite a few neighborhood playgrounds in the city — just not enough. For example, Pine Island Park, although a nice area with a modern playground as well as trails that run to and along Pine Island Pond, is not a neighborhood playground. This is primarily because it is difficult to find if one isn’t specifically looking for it — and it requires those who walk to travel alongside and cross a very busy four-lane roadway that runs to the airport. Not exactly a nice, safe walk to a neighborhood playground.
As mentioned in the past, Manchester is a car-dependent city. Anyone who has spent any amount of time in the city knows this. Those who don’t know, or who are curious about how the city rates, can see Manchester’s “car-dependent” score of 48 on Walk Score’s website. So the fact that some of the Manchester’s playgrounds are spread out and in high-traffic areas is understandable because of the lack of walkability in the city, but this needs to change.
There is always the question of why there aren’t enough playgrounds in Manchester. Is it because there aren’t that many kids who live in the city? Well according to the 2010 census, the city population was 109,565, of which approximately 7,341 were under the age of 5, (6.7 percent). The statistics also indicate that there were approximately 23,666 persons under the age of 18 living in Manchester in 2010, (21.6 percent of the population). Of course generally speaking teenagers do not frequent playgrounds, and they are not intended for that age group, but seeing the total number is interesting.
Another reason that I often hear is that people no longer have time to spend at playgrounds so there isn’t really a need for them. Having spent a lot of time at playgrounds between our boys and with other kids who have been in our care, I have observed that they are quite busy. Further, children not having unstructured time is unhealthy. HealthDay reporter Tara Haelle recently wrote of a study led by Dr. Pooja Tandon, assistant professor of pediatrics at the University of Washington in Seattle. The study, which was published in the Journal of Pediatrics, showed that preschoolers were not getting the recommended minimum of at least one hour of unstructured free play time per day (along with the recommended one hour of daily adult-led structured physical activity) at day care centers. This study shows that we need playgrounds and play structures so that kids can get the exercise that they need.
Another reason that is pretty much always mentioned is that the city just doesn’t have the money to support more playgrounds. It is true that a budget can only go so far and that there are many priorities that the city must concentrate on, but I feel that investing in the health and welfare of children is a huge priority. Besides, who says that the city — and therefore the taxpayers — needs to be solely responsible for the cost of playgrounds?
Playgrounds need to be clean, safe, and easily accessible. In my opinion, every neighborhood should have at least one free-standing playground. The benefits to having playgrounds are well-documented, especially with the promotion of healthy lifestyles and the often published benefits of physical activity. Susan Lundman, a freelance writer at livestrong.com, writes of the benefits of installing children’s playground equipment. Susan writes of the physical benefits, including how playground equipment gets kids moving and provides “a healthy dose of cardiovascular, heart-healthy exercise.” Susan also writes of the social benefits of playgrounds, including group interaction and social development. She discusses how it has been written that social interaction in playgrounds benefits the country as a whole because it builds “citizenship and neighborliness,” which is accomplished when kids from different ethnic groups and economic levels play together. I really haven’t thought much about the citizenship aspect of playgrounds, but kids of different backgrounds and socioeconomic levels playing together is a positive thing, especially in the ever-increasing diversity of our cities.
Manchester needs more playgrounds that are easily accessible to everyone, including those who do not drive. As mentioned earlier, this does not need to be totally on the city. This is something that could be done through public-private partnerships and with assistance from an organization such as Kaboom.
As a side note for those who would argue that Manchester has plenty of playgrounds if schoolyards are added: According to the city’s website, there are 14 elementary schools in Manchester. Of the 14 elementary schools, 13 have playgrounds, (92.9 percent). Add this to the previous adjusted total and Manchester has 60 areas that have space for playgrounds, and 33 actually have them. So this means that Manchester has playgrounds in 55 percent of areas suitable for play spaces. This is a better number, but it should be higher. And as I mentioned earlier, schools do not count because they are use-restricted during the school year and this is about free-standing playgrounds.
Building and maintaining great neighborhood play spaces for kids doesn’t have to break the bank, it just needs the commitment of adults.
About the author: Brian Chicoine is a New Hampshire native who moved to Manchester from Raymond in 1980 at the age of 8. He attended Gossler Park Elementary, Parkside and Southside Junior High, and West High, from which he graduated in 1990. After attending Notre Dame College in Manchester, Brian completed his undergraduate degree at Rhode Island College in Providence. Brian and his wife Jackie then came to Manchester in 2004 and were involved in various outreach organizations. Their two boys were born in Manchester during this time. After his position was eliminated in 2009, Brian and his family returned to Rhode Island. They have been living in Providence since 2010. Brian and his family love Manchester and are planning on returning within the next few months. Brian is currently working at helping the city move forward by connecting with other stakeholders and becoming involved with like-minded groups. Brian is also laying the foundation for an organization that will help strengthen the city and help it move forward.
Brian holds a Bachelor’s degree from Rhode Island College and a Master of Public Administration degree from Grand Canyon University. Brian currently works at Boston Children’s Hospital. He is also founder of a Facebook Group, Manchester Forward. You can contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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