The park was a successful collaboration between public and private groups
On a bright New York summer day, the city officially opened a one-of-a-kind playground in the heart of the Seaport district. The Imagination Playground at Burling Slip, at the corner of South and John Streets, drew a crowd of VIPs and, perhaps more importantly, dozens of children who quickly dove into piles of interactive play equipment and water features.
(View a slide show of Imagination Playground here.)
“Imagination Playground is a dynamic new way for children to discover and create while they are playing and having fun,” said Mayor Michael Bloomberg. “The playground continues the revitalization of Lower Manhattan, it furthers our PlaNYC goal to create new parks and open spaces, and it also reaffirms our administration’s commitment to ‘Excellence in Design’ by collaborating with our city’s top architects, designers, and artists to create exceptional structures and spaces.”
Mayor Bloomberg also praised the new park as a successful public-private partnership. He was joined at the opening event by Rockwell, Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver, State Senator Daniel Squadron, Borough President Scott Stringer, Council Member Margaret Chin, Community Board 1 Chair Julie Menin, and Parks & Recreation Commissioner Adrian Benepe.
Completed in just over one year, the innovative Burling Slip playspace was conceived and designed pro-bono by architect David Rockwell to encourage child-directed, unstructured free play. The site that was once a parking lot now is a block-long, multi-level space with large sand and water features; a huge array of loose toys and tools; and trained staff on-site who maintain and manage the site. The loose equipment lets children build something, tear it down, and start all over again.
“Nothing is tied down and the options are endless,” said Rockwell, whose company the Rockwell Group is raising, in collaboration with the New York City Department of Parks & Recreation, an endowment fund to ensure that Imagination Playground is maintained in perpetuity.
The project was made possible by a $4.5 million grant from the Lower Manhattan Development Corporation, which is funded through Community Development Block Grants from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. The city Department of Environmental Protection also provided $3 million for the relocation of two water mains and a sewer line. The city Economic Development Corporation played an instrumental role in the project, including giving up its parking lot as the site for the playground.
Rockwell Group’s playground design was inspired by the South Street Seaport’s rich maritime and commercial history -- incorporating elements such as a cascading water channel, a climbing rope, masts and pulleys, and a lookout ramp with telescopes. The built landscape also incorporates amphitheater seating and a “crow’s nest” that has a double function as a storage unit for loose equipment.
Rockwell and his partners have also created a portable version of the playground called “Imagination Playground in a Box.” The kit consists of parts suitable for a variety of outdoor and indoor sites as an easy-to-install, cost-effective means to give children unstructured, free-play opportunities. The first Imagination Playground in a Box was launched at the Brownsville Recreation Center playground in Brooklyn in July 2008, and since then the concept is in use in 10 New York City parks, and many others nationwide. For more information about Imagination Playground in a Box and an interactive world map of all the public sites where these sets can be found visit www.nyc.gov or click here.
Rockwell, who also lives downtown, ended his welcome speech with a fitting quote from George Bernard Shaw: “We don’t stop playing because we grow old; we grow old because we stop playing.”