Frederick Olmsted, the architect of New York’s Central Park, reputedly said: “The enjoyment of scenery employs the mind without fatigue and yet exercises it; tranquilizes it and yet enlivens it; and thus, through the influence of the mind over the body gives the effect of refreshing rest and reinvigoration to the whole system.”
Because that might sound a little highfalutin, in the manner of 1800s speech, we also shall share a more recent quote from Arnold Schwarzenegger: “You can’t tell a kid that it’s time to exercise; that’s a turnoff . . . you have to say, ‘Let’s go to the park and have some fun!’ Then you get them to do some running, play on the swings, practice on the balance beam, and basically get a full workout disguised as play.”
America’s urban parks date to 1634, when Boston Commons was established, and for nearly 400 years they have been a necessary feature of U.S. cities. There remains something calming yet invigorating about open space amid the din of city life.
So it is notable that the playgrounds at three city of Vancouver parks are undergoing transformations. In the process, the projects reflect the city’s long-standing commitment to parks that serve the public, lending beauty and diversions to the urban setting.
In 2018, REI Co-Op and the Trust for Public Land included Vancouver on a list of 50 U.S. cities with the best access to public lands and parks. The same survey found that two-thirds of city-dwelling Americans did not have easy access to the outdoors.
“Last year, 150 million Americans didn’t do anything active outdoors,” an REI executive said at the time. “That’s a big problem. And when we look at why it’s happening, we know one contributing factor is that not everyone has access to wild places.”
The city of Vancouver manages 64 neighborhood parks and 12 larger community parks. There also are several designated natural areas and trails, reflecting a connection to the outdoors that is a piece of the Northwest’s heritage.
Enhancing that connection is the motivation for new playgrounds. Play areas at Marshall, Esther Short and Fruit Valley parks are being revamped in part to improve accessibility for children of all abilities.
The Chelsea Anderson Memorial Play Station at Marshall is expected to open this spring and is being built in conjunction with Harper’s Playground, an organization that constructs inclusive playgrounds accessible to children using walkers or wheelchairs. “Everybody has, and deserves, the right to play,” Harper’s Playground co-founder Cody Goldberg said.
A new playground at Esther Short Park is expected to open before summer. Plans already were in the works for a revamped play area, and those plans were expedited in January 2022 when an arsonist destroyed the existing playground.
And this month, city officials announced that a new playground will be built at Fruit Valley Park, with construction expected to begin in 2024. That renovation will be funded with a $1 million donation from the Kuni Foundation. By focusing on accessibility and inclusion for all, the new playgrounds will help realize the vision of a vibrant, welcoming community.
Consider the impact of an Esther Short Park renovation in the late 1990s. That transformation was the catalyst for development surrounding the park and, eventually, the Vancouver waterfront.
Yes, parks are more than a bunch of trees and grass. And we think Frederick Olmsted would agree.