Last Thursday, April 29, city officials and school administrators gathered to break ground on a gorgeous new million-dollar playground behind P.S. 47 in West Farms. The space has hardtop surfaces that are covered with colorful paintings, a fancy jungle gym structure with multiple slides and monkey bars, a basketball court, a small playing field, a track, an outdoor stage, and two large murals of Sesame Street characters. But the most interesting development of all: students of the school helped plan and design every aspect.
“A year ago this was just an asphalt lot with some dumpsters,” said Mary Alice Lee, director of the NYC Playgrounds Program run by the Trust for Public Lnd (TPL). “Now, with the designs of the students, they have a beautiful outdoor space, open to the public.”
Thursday’s festivities included two choral performances by students of the school and a ballroom dance show. P.S. 47’s principal, Thomas Guarnieri, told the crowd that indeed, “What makes this so special is that children were involved at every level. This playground was not just built with materials, it was built with love.” Lee confirmed later on that this wasn’t just a case of students giving some casual input and officials trumping up the process into something it wasn’t. TPL underwent a three-month design process during which all students in the school were consulted and asked to give their input on which items they’d most like to see. The top three responses were shade, a jungle gym, and a turf field. All of those elements are now there, along with more. “Since they’re the users of the playground, they were the most important people for us to consult,” reasoned Lee. Only after student input did TPL move from the design stage to actual building. Still, a few students had some involvement even past the early responses.
One of the leaders in creating this playground was Rose Harvey, a former senior vice president for TPL who has now left to teach environmental studies at Yale University. Every single speaker mentioned Harvey specifically and thanked her, but afterward, Harvey said humbly: “Being singled out is a great honor, but this was really all of us together. The New York Advisory Committee gave us the money for this, but they also gave their hearts, just like the students did.”
Assemblyman Marcos Crespo was on hand as well, and told students that their new playground “is not just a spot to play, it’s also a symbol of all that you deserve, and of a rise in morale.” Crespo told students they could grow to be whatever they want, and that shared community projects like this one are extremely important. After he spoke, many people present cited his words as the most inspiring and memorable of any heard that day.
After helping to cut the ribbon, Maria Molina fondly remembered the design process. “It was so fun, we had competitions and worked with models, and there really weren’t many challenges except for deciding how big the slide would be,” she said.