Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Review: Rio Vista Community Park (Peoria, AZ)

Ah, the suburbs.  So very far away.  But also blessed with space and (at least in years past) sufficient tax revenue to meet the desires of their often family-focused residents for play areas.  So as we were planning to head out to Peoria for an unrelated reason recently, we decided to stop by Rio Vista Community Park.

The park is clearly one of Peoria's most important (if not the most important) parks.  It's got a community center, ball fields, a splash pad, ramadas aplenty, and a river running through it all.  Really.

But let's talk about the playground itself.  There's a lot of different types of play equipment, as you can see from the pictures here.  The big primary-colored (and age-segregated) play structures.  The (comparatively) odd Kompan structure next to it.  A small rock-climbing wall next to it.  Swings (four for the big kids, four for the small).  A couple big corkscrew slides.  Stonehenge.  Swinging steering wheels.  A metal rocketship (not pictured).

In other words, there are lots of different play structures.  None that were particularly new to me, but many that I hadn't seen all collected in one play area.

Seriously, who decides that they need Stonehenge (not quite 18 inches in height, but not 18 feet tall, either) right next to the purple balancing mushrooms?  Those spinning wheels would be kinda cool for older kids; the spiral slide was more spirally than most -- you could get multiple static electricity shocks coming down that one.

Now, we were there on an overcast day during the week after K-12 schools had started, so it was a lot less crowded (and perhaps more pleasant) than it would have been otherwise. One of the big drawbacks to the playground is that while the structures are (partially) shaded, there are few trees and places for the parents to sit.  The large number of ramadas would fill that purpose if it's empty, but on spring weekend afternoons, I bet the place is absolutely packed.

In the end, the playground is a really nice (if a bit oddball) collection of relatively new equipment, and if we lived nearby, I bet we'd visit quite a bit.  If you're passing through Phoenix (say, on your way to LA from Northern Arizona), it's definitely worth the stop if you need a playground break.  It's a suburban playground, and I mean that in the best sense of the word.

What: Rio Vista Community Park
Where: 8866-A W. Thunderbird Rd / Peoria, AZ 85345 (map)
Parking: Parking lots adjacent to playgrounds, free.  Park and community center likely served by bus.
Amenities: Well, the community center looks nice from the outside.  And there's a bathroom.  But if you're thinking of, you know, food... bring your own.
Bottom Line: Lots of playground equipment, a fair amount of shade, and lots of picnic tables.  On an uncrowded day, it's fabulous.  Crowded day?  Hmm....

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Seeking Playground Reviews

As I noted earlier, I'd like to make this site a listing of high-quality playgrounds across the country, with reviews so that folks can find descriptions of great playgrounds, be they a 10-minute walk or 2-day roadtrip away.

My first two reviews, for example, are for playgrounds which aren't even in the same state as the one in which in we reside.  I'll get to playgrounds closer to home, eventually, but would like this site to be, if not comprehensive -- listings of tens of thousands of playgrounds would be unwieldy, frankly -- at least broad-based.

And that's where you come in.  I'll never be able to touch on more than a few dozen playgrounds (if that many), but I know I have friends and readers all across the country (even some internationally), and if each of them wrote just one or two reviews, this would become a very interesting (and useful) site for all involved.

I don't have the site set up, wiki-style, to allow you to enter your own reviews, so you'll need to e-mail them to me at playmapped AT gmail DOT com (I think you can figure out how to make that a real e-mail address).

What am I looking for in reviews?  Well, you can look at the other reviews to get a general sense, but I'm pretty open.  I just want reviews where the reader can get a good sense of the playground's highlights (and lowlights) for kids, along with any relevant info for the adults to help them evaluate how easy (or hard) the outing will be, logistically.  I would like, if possible, all the reviews to include the summary info found at the bottom of each review under "Details":  What [park/playground name], Where [address, along with Google/Mapquest map link], Parking: [Street/lot/pay/public transportation if any], Amenities [Anything else that would positively or negatively affect the overall experience], and Bottom Line [pretty self-explanatory, that one].  If you don't submit those, I'll probably write them myself based on the information in the rest of the review, but it'd be easier for me if you did it.

Pictures are great, but not required.  And I'm happy to provide a link back to whatever website you'd like to link to, along with any introduction you'd like to provide, if you'd like to do so.

Finally, and I swear this is as legalese as I'll get around here -- I reserve the right to edit or not publish a review for any reason (I can't imagine that this would be a problem, but just in case) and submission of a review constitutes your granting of a permanent non-exclusive copyright to me of your text and pictures.

So, I hope you'll help make this site a useful one for the millions of families across the country for whom play is important.

Friday, August 13, 2010

Review: Ella Bailey Playground (Seattle, WA)

In our quest for nice playgrounds in Seattle, we had been told that Ella Bailey Park in the Magnolia neighborhood northwest of downtown Seattle had great climbing structures and an awesome view of the city.  (Others are similarly enthusiastic.) And maybe Seattle residents might not care about looking at their downtown repeatedly, but visitors?  With new structures?  Oh, yeah, we were there.

We quite liked the park (we went just with Little Boy Blue as Miss Mary Mack stayed at our hosts' house playing with her friends there).  The structures are new (installed in 2007 according to the park's website) and are from Kompan.  There are 4 different climbing structures, roughly ordered in age-appropriateness.  I was particularly struck by the design of this ladder here on the "oldest" structure.  I don't recall seeing any kids climbing on it during our time here, though.  There's a curvy slide that Little Boy Blue enjoyed, and a lot of other features/design notes on the structures.

In addition to the structures shown in the pictures, there's a tire swing (tire swings seem to be particularly popular in the Pacific Northwest) a couple half-basketball courts, a wide-wide open field of grass, and a porta-pottie.  In other words, this very much feels like a neighborhood park.

A park, I might add, with an awesome view of downtown Seattle.  There are less than a handful of regular swings, which seems to me a waste of vista.  I wish there were a whole bank of swings facing south so that on a clear day kids (and their parents) could swing right at Mount Rainier.

The park was reasonably crowded on a summer weekday morning, and I bet it gets packed on weekends.  With good reason.  It's a clean and lovely place to while away an hour or two with your family, regardless of whether you live in Seattle year-round or are visiting just for a couple days.

What: Ella Bailey Playground
Where: 2601 W Smith St / Seattle, WA 98134 (map)
Parking: Street parking, free.  Neighborhood likely served by bus.
Amenities: In the middle of a residential neighborhood. Just one porta-pottie and virtually no shade.  So even if you'd like to spend 4 hours here, you probably shouldn't.
Bottom Line: Beautiful Seattle views, new playground equipment, and a big field for running around in.  You will likely be jealous.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Review: Marshall Community Park (Vancouver, WA - Portland, OR region)

Marshall Community Park in Vancouver, Washington (just off I-5 and across the Columbia River from Portland, Oregon) is a big park filled with tall trees.  Perfect for a summer day, right?  It's next to the Marshall Community Center and stretches across the street.  Lots of wide fields for running around.

But our friends brought us here for the playground, which was apparently constructed in 2006.   As you can see, it's a pretty big play structure, with slides, bridges, etc.  It's almost too big -- typically structures like this are split into two, one for the pre-K kids, one for the gradeschoolers, but there's no differentiation here, so there points at which we couldn't see our kids, which doesn't happen typically at most playgrounds our family explores.

In addition to the more standard stuff on the playset, one kinda component was a chain-link bridge of about 8 feet in length so that someone could practice inching their way across, either with or without the chainlink handrails to aid in their balance.  The playground also featured a very small fire-station like play area for the wee ones, those tire/pole things in the foreground, a weaksauce swing set (4 full-size, 2 toddler-size), and a set of monkey bars that mimic bridges, reaching an eventual height of about 8 feet, high enough to make even me a bit cautious as I tried my hand traversing the thing.

The set looks a little empty, and it certainly was when got there on summer Friday morning.  It did fill up, however, as the morning progressed and summer camps from the community center stopped by to run around.

There's nothing particularly special about this playground, and so it might strike you as an odd choice for the debut review here.  But I think a lot of playgrounds are in this "decent-to-good" range, and so why not start out with it?

What: Marshall Community Park
Where: 1015 E. McLoughlin / Vancouver, WA 98663 (map)
Parking: On-site, free; being next to a community center, I'm sure it's on a bus line, too.
Amenities: The community center is a good place to get an ice pack if a certain child of yours stumbles and whacks the back of his head on part of the structure.  Just sayin'.  But there aren't other stores, restaurants, etc., nearby.
Bottom Line: I'm sure there are nicer parks/playgrounds in Portland proper if you're in the area.  But this is a nice, big suburban playground if you're spending some time in the Vancouver area or passing through on your way to or from Seattle.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Why PlayMapped?

When our daughter (known here as Miss Mary Mack) was about 3 years old, we went on a family vacation to San Diego.  Our big "splurge" day was a trip to Legoland.  It was not the perfect day at a Southern California amusement park -- she cried, was a bit timid, and, well, none of us had a lot of fun.

Except at the playground.  We spent well over $100 for a day at Legoland, and all our daughter wanted to do was play at the playground.  If I had known that, I could've easily saved $100 and a day's worth of aggravation.

Ever since then, our vacations, both near and far, have tried to include at least one trip to a playground.  And we've generally found that our times at playgrounds have been among the most enjoyable parts of our trips.  Miss Mary Mack and her younger brother (Little Boy Blue) have fun, we the parents get a break, and we also get the experience of seeing what is typically a non-touristy part of a location -- we all get a better feel for the place.

And that place can even be down the street in our own hometown.  There is value in visiting playgrounds in our own spread-out city, seeing different kids and families, trying new things.

So, yeah, playgrounds = good.

The problem is trying to find good playgrounds.  There is the occasional weblink to an article listing the best playgrounds in a particular city or region, but the usefulness is mixed -- sometimes the articles are out-of-date, they often lack pictures, and for an outsider looking in, it's often impossible to figure out exactly where this awesome playground with the 3-story-tall slide is.

So this is my small attempt to solve that problem.  I want to review playgrounds, not just from my city, but from all around the country.  I want to talk about what I as a parent enjoy in playgrounds for my kids (as opposed to the viewpoint of the playground designer, which is also important, but not my focus given my total lack of formal education in the subject).  And I want this to be comprehensive, so that playgrounds from all around the country get their time in the sun.

How that's all going to work will be revealed here shortly.  For the moment, though, thanks for stopping by, hope to see you again soon.

Monday, August 9, 2010


Welcome to PlayMapped, my attempt to help families around the country find awesome playgrounds for their kids.  I'll be providing some more background on the project in coming days, but if you're looking for information on the country's best playgrounds, I hope you'll find this site a helpful resource.