Proposed project to develop a Children’s Play Garden has been presented to residentsBy Peter Schuler
Planning is underway for a proposed Midway Plaisance Children’s Play Garden on a four-acre tract of land at the east end of the Midway Plaisance, between the Metra tracks and Stony Island Avenue. The project-primarily designed for children ages three through 12-would offer “a uniquely rewarding experience for children,” said Richard Bumstead, University Planner in Facilities Services.
The Play Garden would be a joint undertaking of the Chicago Park District and the University. A process of dialogue on the plan among neighborhood leaders and residents was initiated at a recent community meeting. The projected $6 million in needed funds would be raised from public and private sources: half for the initial construction and half for an endowment to support programming and ongoing maintenance.
The new children’s park space would have interactive, themed gardens to stimulate creativity and spark insight through self-motivated discovery. Project designer Herb Schall of EDAW Inc., a Colorado-based firm that specializes in the design of children’s gardens, predicts it would become a community landmark for children and their families - “a Buckingham Fountain for Hyde Park.”
The garden would be organized into a “hub and spoke” system, with a single point of access for security and a central Play Center, with dramatic, grand-scale, Terra Cotta pots intended to become distinctive icons, which will lead to three play environments: the Farm/Vegetable Garden, the Flower Garden and the Wild Place.
A team of professionally trained, full-time, adult “play workers,” a well-known concept in Europe, would act as guides to help the children explore and learn. The Children’s Play Garden would be one of the first facilities in the United States to use the “play worker” concept in the public sector.
“Though the garden is exemplary from a design perspective, the most interesting aspect to me is what the children are going to take away from this rich experience. It will be filled with stimulating learning opportunities for the kids and playful ways to excite their imagination,” said Bumstead.
Roger Hart, co-director of the Center for Human Environments at the City University of New York, and an internationally recognized expert on early childhood development and children’s play areas, is a consultant to the project. Hart’s applied research team develops programs to foster more dynamic and empowering relationships between children and their environment, with a particular focus on low-income communities. The Children’s Play Garden would embody the Center for Human Environments’ ideas. Leading the consultant team for the project is the Chicago landscape architecture and planning firm, Wolff Clements Associates Ltd.
“We all are tremendously excited,” said Hank Webber, Vice President for Community and Government Affairs. “The Children’s Play Garden would provide an outstanding, inspiring and playful landscape where kids and families can have fun while they develop an appreciation for plants and our natural world.”
In the Vegetable Garden, the children-many of whom live in an urban setting-will be able to participate in gardening and farm-related activities, such as growing their own plants. The Wild Place will lead children through natural landscapes such as grassland, forest and wetland. The Flower Garden will be a labyrinth of hedges, walls and flower plantings to create a landscape of fantasy. The entire Children’s Play Garden will be fenced in with a single point of entry, which is intended for parents to monitor their children and feel secure in knowing where their children are playing within the grounds.
“The Play Garden would not only be a significantly enriching experience for the children themselves, it also would offer great opportunities to enhance parent/child relationships,” Bumstead said.
The Children’s Play Garden is one proposed component of the Master Plan for the Midway Plaisance, which includes other developed spaces on the Midway. Those include the permanent skating rink and warming house and the Reader’s Garden, which has been created around the Linné monument.
For more information, contact Hank Webber in the Office of Community and Government Affairs at (773) 702-6815.