In Search of Playgrounds:

Partitioning the Sidewalk for Play

This design study’s main objective is to create a more multi-use public space that children, seniors, and the generations in between will be able to use throughout the Upper East Side. 

Site: Sidewalk in front of 242 East 72nd Street, Manhattan, 

New York, NY 10021 

The Upper East Side’s tree-lined streets, its border with Central Park, and the rhythms of its garden boxes give the impression that there will be a green open space around the corner or two blocks over. According to New Yorkers for Parks Open Space Index of the Upper East Side, there is not enough open space, which affects the children living here. Of City Council District 5’s ten playgrounds—a number substantially lower than the citywide average of 34—only two standalone playgrounds and two in-park playgrounds are within the Upper East Side’s boundaries. Of City Council District 4’s playgrounds, nine playgrounds 0 are within the neighborhood. There are 0.5 playgrounds per 1,000 children. 

The guiding principles behind the design of this public space are informed by my concept of play and an amalgamation of the philosophies of William “Holly” Whyte, Guillermo “Gil” Penalosa, and Andrew Silver. Whyte calls attention to the structure, programming, maintenance, and security of public spaces. He advocated for public spaces to have ample seating and highlighted that a public space’s perceived accessibility is dependent on its interaction with the street (or lack thereof). Penalosa believes that design for children creates a more livable city. Therefore, he calls on design to cater to the extremes: a public space should accommodate both the 8-year-old and 80-year-old. Like Penalosa, Silver believes parks encourage interpersonal relationships. He proposed and works under a new set of criteria: instead of “active” and “passive” spaces, he uses “single-use” and “multi-use” spaces. His focus on imaginative play, using tree branches, tree stumps, rocks, and large fields instead of prevalent single-use playground equipment, has heavily influenced the concept of play that underlies the final design parameters for the sidewalk playgrounds. 

My concept of play focuses on a child’s inventive use of existing space. Children jump onto and climb over park benches. They crawl under and slip through spaces large enough for them to move through. This semi-structured play uses the imagination to turn the ordinary into the extraordinary. Therefore, a simple, porous design will allow for the playground furniture to be a blank canvas. Ideally, a set of four city blocks will have at least two sidewalk playgrounds giving children have access to more than just the four playgrounds in the area. The design focuses on repurposing small sections of the wide Upper East Side sidewalks, with the initial funding by the New York City Department of Transportation, management funding from community park groups and the adjacent buildings, and maintenance funding from the nearby buildings. 

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