They say Rome wasn’t built in a day, but it only took six hours last weekend for 200 volunteers to construct a new children's playground in Hazelwood.
More than 160 volunteers braved a nasty forecast Saturday to kick off the next phase in the ongoing economic revitalization of Pittsburgh’s Hazelwood neighborhood.
The thunderstorms never materialized, but a new playground between Lyle Street and Roma Way did. The recreational area is the main attraction of the growing Hazelwood Play Trail, which comprises a number of kid-focused, community-building areas in a 1-mile radius of the Hazelwood Branch of the Carnegie Library on Second Street. The planned 10-attraction trail already has a large gardening area tended by a local resident, and next up is the Elizabeth Street Parklet, an open space and community area to be created this fall.
“It’s not necessarily hiking through the woods, but it is like walking through the neighborhood and walking from one place to the next place with the concept of play in mind,” says Cara Ciminillo, executive director of Pittsburgh Association for the Education of Young Children (PAEYC).
Marilyn Russell eats, sleeps and drinks art appreciation.
When you walk with Russell through the galleries of the Carnegie Museum of Art, it's as if she knows every individual painting, sculpture and piece of furniture.
She engages whoever is with her with questions and history about the pieces of art. On a recent field trip for students from Environmental Charter School, Russell observed as each of the groups of first-graders made their way through the “Silver to Steel: The Modern Designs of Peter Muller-Munk” exhibit. That's part of her job as curator of education for the museum. But those who know her realize it's more of a passion than an occupation.
Some of my most vivid childhood memories are running wild through Laumeier Sculpture Park outside St. Louis, Missouri, with a pack of siblings and cousins. The 105-acre park is more like an open-air museum dotted with sculptures that tower 65 feet into the air and holes that fall several feet into the dirt.
As we played tag and turned the abstract pieces of art into our pirate ships and dungeons, we were acutely aware of the absence of “no touching” signs on many of the sculptures. No sign meant climbing or hanging wasn’t against the rules, right?
Looking back, I’m certain these memories stay in sharp focus because our play had an element of risk. Not danger, really—only a sense of exhilaration when climbing and sliding on sculptures slightly taller and unfamiliar than I was used to.
Last February, a group called the Playful Pittsburgh Collaborative hosted its second community conversation at the Carnegie Museum of Art. The topic? The role of risk in children’s play. And although it was the dead of winter, more than 300 people registered for the event.
It took the collaborative by surprise.
“This was the community conversation that surprised us the most,” said Cara Ciminillo, operations director at the Pittsburgh Association for the Education of Young Children (PAEYC). “It was such a thought provoking conversation starter that you really pulled in lots of people.”
The conversation drew educators, parents, city officials, nonprofit organizations, and even two grocery store owners who wanted to know what their role could be in supporting play in their neighborhoods.
Play was a central theme of the 2013 Carnegie International, with The Playground Project exhibition and Lozziwurm play sculpture encouraging a larger ongoing discussion about the way we approach childhood, risk, public space, and education. And it’s a topic that remains timely. In a recent segment on NPR, for example, it was reported that time on the playground may be more important than time in the classroom.
“The experience of play changes the connections of the neurons at the front end of your brain,” Sergio Pellis, a researcher at the University of Lethbridge in Alberta, Canada, told NPR’s Jon Hamilton. “And without play experience,” he said, “those neurons aren’t changed.”
With the weather warming and summer vacation nearing, children are scampering to playgrounds to find friends and burn off energy — that is, if they have unscheduled time and a play space in the neighborhood.
Those are just two of the interests of the Playful Pittsburgh Collaborative, a group of local organizations and individuals that have united to focus on play. Its issues include the intrinsic benefits of play and the effect on playground design of what some consider to be exaggerated concerns with risk. Although it is based in Pittsburgh, the collaborative hopes that interest in rethinking play and playgrounds will extend to organizations beyond the city and Allegheny County.
Pittsburgh has been named a Playful City by the Humana Foundation for three years now—but what are we doing to make sure more of us are playing, for all its impact on health and learning?
That’s the question that bothered Cara Ciminillo, director of operations for the Pittsburgh Association for the Education of Young Children (PAEYC).