Neshama Playground was created to showcase Toronto’s commitment to inclusive play. The result of a partnership between Canada’s largest city and a private team of fundraisers, it is the first public playground designed to be accessible to children with disabilities in Toronto. In my work with PMA Landscape Architects, I participated as designer and project manager.
The project team worked with a community of agencies servicing our children with disabilities to create a neighbourhood playground where everyone belongs.
The landscape design concept was drawn from the sites’ early history as the location of Yellow Creek which was buried in the 1920’s. The runoff from the sprayplay area is channelled through a faux streambed and used for further play by the children who float leaves and toys in the flow. The streambed divides senior and junior play areas and large cedar poles are used to further slow running children as they approach the swingset. The junior sprayplay zone includes not only a custom accessible waterplay table in the form of a lily pad, but also spray elements featuring frogs and dragonflys. The sandbox area includes custom accessible sand tables and seatwalls. All slopes (including the streambed) are gentle to encourage use by those with assistive devices.
Other play features include standard accessible equipment (swings, climbing structures, rockers, spinning toys, play house, sound play, etc.), a trike track, and permeable recycled rubber safety surface with colour inserts promoting jumping and running.
Accommodations for children and parents with disabilities also include accessible washroom facilities, pathways, and seating. The new washroom was placed in the landscape to act as a beacon at night and increase public perceptions of safety. It includes 2 family-style accessible washrooms and a utility area.
Run-off water from the junior splashpad was guided to a faux streambed before outlet to a catchbasin. This created additional play from the water used and turned out to be very popular with toddlers who couldn’t resist the chance to jump in or create piles of toys to divert the water.
The cedar poles create a permeable barrier to slow children as they leave the junior play space and enter the safety zone of the swingset.
The final design concept was chosen by the public from several options created via design charettes by the entire staff of the firm. The public consultation process required that we provide options and education regarding issues of:
- desired amenities
- maintaining a challenging play environment for non-disabled children
- traditional versus contemporary views of play and play spaces
- impact on neighbourhood of creating accessible parking spaces
- existing conflicts (bicycle and pedestrian activity)
When completed, attendance at the playground immediately soared. Truly, if you build it, they will come!