Does your park have a bad reputation? The perception that a public place may be unsafe is enough to keep people from enjoying their local park or playground. If parents and other community members think a local park is a safety risk, they will steer clear of it whether or not crime is actually being committed there.
What contributes to this perception of risk?
It could be something that doesn’t have an easy solution. A persistent homeless presence, continuous vandalism, or faulty equipment, for example, are tough problems that won’t go away overnight. But most of the issues that could give your park or playground a bad reputation are things you can handle. Parks and school administrators should recognize these issues and take steps to make the community feel safer. Ultimately, if you can make residents feel proud of the public space, it will encourage more utilization as the community takes ownership of your park and everything it offers.
Here are some safety measures and other steps you can take to increase confidence in your park and promote community activities.
Keep the Schedule Full
A busy park is a safe park. Chances are your park or playground has peak times when children and adults can be found there, but what about the rest of the time?
What can you do to increase activity during the times of day and days of the week when the park is normally quiet? Quiet times are usually early mornings and late evenings during the work week. If you schedule group activities and other programs you can make the public feel welcome throughout the day and into the evening.
What sort of activities might these include? Organized sports and after-school programs are always popular. Here are a few more ideas you might consider:
- Off-leash dog events
- Family-friendly outdoor yoga, Pilates, or tai chi
- Teen programming, including movie night or an ice cream social
- Outdoor nature study and guided hikes
- Exercise meetups for senior citizens
- Plant swaps and botanical tours.
Do you have room for a picnic shelter, tables, and grills? Encouraging families to gather for meals will go a long way towards making everyone feel at home.
If possible, make sure these activities are visible from outside the park. With concessions and scheduled events throughout the park, you make it obvious to everyone in the neighborhood that people are there and something fun is happening.
Here’s one case study: a park in Syracuse, New York, had a reputation for being unsafe. Residents and members of the Syracuse Healthy Neighborhoods partnership worked to draw more people to the park with events like youth softball, a free summer camp, and weekly live music. These activities strengthened social support for the park and helped the community develop a collective sense of pride. Again, when you have people in the park, you ultimately create a safer park environment.
Keeping Up Appearances
Vandalism is an example of something that increases the perception that a public area is unsafe. Remove litter and graffiti quickly so it is clear that your park is being maintained. Adequate lighting is another way to keep your park or playground safe and help community members feel more at ease.
Along with efforts to combat litter and vandalism, be sure to have clear signage available. Maps and clear, descriptive instructions promote a sense of safety and deter inappropriate activities. Plus, they’re helpful for everyone!
Promote Safety and Inclusivity
Of course, your park should meet all applicable ADA requirements so your space is welcoming for wheelchair users and others who rely on special accommodations.
You should also make sure playground equipment is safe for both able-bodied and disabled children. That’s why frequent playground inspections are an important part of making playgrounds safe for the children who use them. (Check out our blog, Does Your Playground Pass or Fail? See Your Safety Report Card.)
For example, elevated surfaces should have guardrails or protective barriers to prevent falls. Look for broken equipment, including protruding bolts and splinters that can cause scrapes and cuts. Remember: wooden equipment can splinter with age, while metal surfaces exposed to bright sunshine can become hot enough to cause burns.
What are you doing to cushion falls around raised play equipment? According to the Consumer Product Safety Commission, every year 200,000 children suffer playground injuries serious enough to require a trip to an emergency room. “Loose fill” materials such as wood chips, gravel, or sand are common surfacing choices that can protect kids from these kinds of injuries. However, these fill materials only work if they are consistently monitored to ensure they maintain a depth adequate enough to disperse the force of impact.
For easier maintenance and depth requirements, consider surrounding potentially risky areas with poured-in-place rubber safety surfacing, and you will have an attractive, effective way to cushion falls without always having to rake loose fill materials back into place.
Train Your Park Staff
Make sure park employees and groundskeepers have the training needed to keep park users safe. This includes making sure they have a clear plan in case of emergencies. If you have an automated external defibrillator (AED), make sure workers know how to use it. If your park includes a public swimming pool, make sure lifeguards are properly trained in first aid and CPR. Swimming pools surrounded by slippery surfaces need the right safety surfacing to prevent slips and falls.
Will employees be driving municipal vehicles? Make sure they meet the driver requirements. And of course, you may want to conduct background checks for positions that have access to resident information or that involve contact with children.
Get the Locals Involved
When community members feel like they have a stake in their local park, the sense of ownership and civic pride encourages consistent use and active stewardship. Neighborhood watch groups can coordinate with police to keep an eye out for illicit activity. Community policing builds connection between police officers and residents. When everyone contributes to make the park a better place, it is a win-win for all involved!
Need more ideas for boosting safety at your park or playground? No Fault can help! We are the nation’s leading provider of resilient rubber surfaces for playgrounds, splash pads, water play areas, jogging tracks, and more. Our safety surfacing has been installed throughout North America since 1974. Give us a call at 866-NFSport or email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.