The power of a playground

Rideau Park playground area

“Something’s happened at the playground!” We’d answered the doorbell, and a pleasant woman we greet on walks was alerting us: “They’re taking it away! The benches too.” Our neighbourhood, Rideau Park, was suddenly up in arms.

Years earlier, our neighbourhood school had become an adult learning centre, which also hosts a popular after-school Mandarin program for children. The park playground that local people had funded kept doing its job. When school district staff decided it was worn out, they didn’t consult us.

So far the only silver lining is that the dissonance may make the school district and city more mindful when more schools get closed. A combined city/school park at the core of a Richmond neighbourhood is not to be taken lightly.

In our case, all cultures and ages have always come together at the playground. There’ll be parents and grandparents with kids. Elderly people like to sit on the park benches, enjoying the treed setting and cheerful activity. Friendly dogs and their humans drop by. We want that back.

School trustees got the message when over twenty residents appeared at an October board meeting. Long-time resident Rick Townsend presented the playground story. Others, including an eloquent seven-year-old, filled it out. A response is due soon.

Last week, Coun. Chak Au, who had talked with locals at the playground site, added the issue to the agenda for council’s parks committee. I spoke about it at the parks meeting in the context of another agenda item, the renewal of Richmond’s community wellness strategy.

City staff went through the park playground scenario and Councillor Au advocated, and useful discussion ensued. Staff will follow up and report back.

So far it seems the school district will refurbish the old park benches and return them but won’t replace the other playground equipment. The city could, although the natural place for it—the old playground area—happens to be on school district land on a park map that shows a dividing line.

That cries out for thoughtful cooperation, and that’s where the community wellness strategy comes in. It involves the city and school district, along with the health region, fostering physical, mental and social wellness together. The playground has cherished roles in our wellness. Good fit!

With school closures looming, bigger challenges will arise. Imagine if the school board tries to sell its part of a city/school neighbourhood park for development.

Whatever happens, neighbourhoods must thrive. A restored Rideau Park playground is a great place to start.

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