Volume 74, Number 41 | February 16 - 22, 2005

Talking Point

A mountain of kids’ health lies in a few ‘molehills’

Villager photo by Josh Argyle
The Parks Department has refused to repair Washington Sq. Park’s mounds for 10 years.

By Eliza Nichols
Why is the debate over what is commonly referred to as “the mounds area” so important to any discussion of Washington Sq. Park’s present and future? Over the last 20 years the percentage of children aged 6 to 11 who were overweight more than doubled, while the percent among teenagers tripled. We are experiencing a crisis of physical inactivity and obesity.
Besides providing kids of all ages a place to sled in the winter, the mounds are the only surviving elements of a designated “adventure playground” for 5-to-12-year-olds. Kids got all the upper and lower body strengthening exercise they needed while burning tons of calories as they ran up and down the hills, climbed and swung on the equipment, and pushed each other on the “manual” merry-go-round.
While the playground for older children was opened in 1970, the play equipment and the hills were never deemed a maintenance priority for Parks officials who have always been hostile to the three hills playground. By the mid-1980s only the hills remained. The play equipment was removed with the promise that it would be replaced. The hills were then closed to the public in the early ’90s with the promise that they would be repaired and resurfaced. Loving parents, willing to brave the threat of arrest or a fine, regularly break through the fence to let their children play on the hills.
There have been three notable battles over the mounds — one for each decade. The Community Board 2 Parks Committee as well as the full community board have consistently passed resolutions to save the mounds under pressure from neighborhood parents, the last resolution having been passed on March 20, 2003. Parks Commissioners Stern and Benepe and Manhattan Borough Parks Commissioner Castro have all promised to repair the mounds and to reinstall playground equipment. Yet, strangely, when Parks submits plans to the community, the older kids’ playground (code name “the mounds”) is never accounted for. And, as we now know, the latest plans to redesign the park reveal that the playground has, in fact, been planned out of existence once again. Children don’t need more sunbathing areas. They certainly will not be able to compete with adults sunning themselves while reading the newspaper. Children need their own designated space where they can be kids.
We should involve our local schools in the park’s planning process, which would provide important lessons in civic engagement and community responsibility.
Since our public officials — namely Alan Gerson — claim to care about their constituents and because more and better play areas mean healthier kids, why not expect more from our elected officials than lip service?
I call on all of my neighbors who care about this issue to write to Alan Gerson and let him know that phase one of the renovation of Washington Sq. Park will not be over until children’s advocates have been allowed to help shape the process and the plans that will lead us to a phase two that we can all get behind and support. We must make sure neighborhood recreation space is restored, repaired, maintained and, where possible, increased to insure the future health and well-being of our neighborhood.

Nichols is associate provost, New School University

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