Imagination Playground: An Innovative and Whimsical Adventure in Lower Manhattan

Guest Post by Monica Storch

I grew up in the suburbs of Los Angeles, where going to the playground meant running around in the grass, swinging over pristine white sand and sharing the play equipment with no more than 10 or 12 other kids at a time. My daughter Sadie’s New York City playground experience could not be more different from that of my youth. Manhattan playgrounds are crowded, utilitarian structures built among a sea of concrete with (usually) nary a blade of grass in sight. Which isn’t to say that our playgrounds are bad, just that they are a bit more rough-and-tumble and that our kids likely experience a few more bumps and bruises as they elbow each other for space than their suburban counterparts (I like to think Sadie will be a tough, independent woman as a result!). Every once in awhile, however, Sadie and I stumble upon a playground that is so unique it really could only exist in New York City. Today was one of those days, as I had the distinct pleasure of exploring an entirely new concept in New York City playgrounds – Imagination Playground.

Located at Burling Slip at the South Street Seaport, this brand-spanking-new playground is a true New York City gem. Designed by architect David Rockwell to encourage child-directed, unstructured free play (so crucial to a child’s development), the playspace allows kids to constantly reconfigure their environment using giant foam blocks, mats, wagons, fabric, crates and more. During my visit, I watched in awe as each child found a unique way to express his or her creativity, whether by swinging in canvas slings, jumping across foam shapes in the water feature, building a cascading water channel, working a series of masts and pulleys, checking out the “listening forest”, pushing wagons through the sand or creating and tearing down structures made of vibrant blue foam blocks. It really made me wish I was a kid again so that I could join in the fun!

Imagination Playground’s seaport location not only creates a quintessential NYC backdrop but also served as inspiration for the playground’s design. The commerical shipping activity that took place at historic Burling Slip is reflected in loose parts such as burlap bags, buckets, shovels, brooms, carts and fabric, and the playground’s proximity to the East River is incorporated via buckets, sandbags and wooden dams. It’s a bit of this and a bit of that and it all somehow works together to create an environment that is nothing short of inspiring. I highly recommend a trip down to the Seaport to check out Imagination Playground, especially while the weather is still warm and kids can take full advantage of the expansive water feature. But be forewarned – Imagination Playground has become so popular that there is often a line to get in when the playground opens in the morning. A line for a playground? How very New York!

Monica Storch publishes, a weekly e-newsletter and website highlighting all the great events going on for kids and families in New York City. She lives in Manhattan with her husband and daughter, and is expecting her second child next Spring.

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