On a Daily News assignment last week, I had the opportunity to explore the new Woodland Discovery Playground at Shelby Farms Park during a members-only preview. That story quickly became our most read, a testament to the excitement surrounding the launch of the one-of-a-kind, sustainable, family-friendly project at one the nation’s largest urban parks, as well as to Memphians’ growing appetite for all things green.
As a reporter, I was especially interested in the innovative, environmentally friendly design of the Woodland Discovery Playground, a pilot project of the Sustainable Sites Initiative, whose goal is to create more sustainable landscapes by bringing LEED-type certifications to landscapes.
But as a parent, I truly began to appreciate what the park’s latest addition means for the city’s children and their families over the weekend while watching my energetic three-year-old daughter explore the playground. As she raved about the slides and swings, and about the new friends with whom she played in the sand nest, I thought about what Shelby Farms Park executive director Laura Adams had told me earlier in the week: “The kids are saying it best themselves with the way that they’re using it.”
Two things about the new playground stood out for me, the first being its inclusiveness. The playscape offers something of value for every child. While toddlers and preschoolers gravitated towards creatively stimulating sand and water features, older children were attracted to the playground’s more physically challenging features, including fast slides, interconnected swings and climbing nets set up with the goal of reaching tree house platforms. In addition, there are areas accessible to children with physical disabilities (which sadly, isn’t the norm at most playgrounds).
The other thing that struck me about Woodland Discovery Playground was the diversity of its usership. The melting pot of our city was evident as parents of African, European, Latino, Middle Eastern, Indian and Southeast Asian ancestry snapped photos and engaged in conversation while their little ones played together. In a city where conversation centered on the things that divide us has for so long been the norm, Shelby Farms Park’s recent projects — first the opening of the Greenline in the fall and now the new playground — have served to bring Memphians just a little bit closer together.
Initiatives such as these also help to solidify the city’s reputation as one that embraces families, an attribute that stands to serve Memphis well in terms of attracting and retaining jobs and talent. While many families this past weekend checked out the Woodland Discovery Playground, others headed to Mud Island, where Memphis-n-Romp kicked off its season of family concerts, and to the Levitt Shell for Frolic, a kid-friendly, rock-n-roll spring fling. Still others attended Memphis Redbirds Kids Opening Day, and celebrated the Memphis Grizzlies big win at the FedEx Forum.
Another creative community highlight was the Memphis Music Foundation’s Memphis Music Launch Weekend. The event blended the city’s talented, multi-faceted music industry folks – those “whose only previous connection might have been sharing an area code,” as stated on the organization’s Facebook page – into one seriously creative melting pot to brainstorm new ideas and produce new material.
And like the beloved music that helps to bridge the city’s divides, child’s play unites Memphians of all ages and from all walks of life to think creatively and share our experiences in order to enrich our wider community.
As Adams told me last week at the playground, “Let the play begin.”