Playgrounds often go hand in hand with the reckless abandon of childhood, a place where parents can take their little ones for an afternoon of running, shouting and swinging through space. But for children living with developmental or physical disabilities, those options tend to shrink in most public places, which generally do not cater to their specific needs. Now, after 10 years of planning, BREC is linking hands with CARBO Landscape Architecture to create our state’s flagship “universally accessible playground” in Independence Community Park, a project that intends to break ground by the end of this year’s fundraising efforts.
“The process also involved an advisory committee made up of experts in children’s development from local organizations like the McMains Children’s Developmental Center and the Emerge Center, as well as parents of kids with various disabilities,” says Reed Richard, a landscape architect and assistant superintendent for BREC planning and engineering.
As a result, the playground will be more than an average collection of climbing structures and slides.
“The overall theme we have planned is ‘Louisiana Critters,’ focusing on three main habitats of Louisiana: upland meadow, bottomland swamp and the wetland delta area,” says Richard. “We wanted to craft different spaces with various sub-spaces within them, creating an exploratory playground where there are surprises around every corner, animals that are larger than life, and public art, utilizing the landscape physically and visually to make the spaces fascinating and memorable for kids and their caretakers.”
Although much of the concept art dedicated to the playground remains in its development stages, Richard says that BREC would like to include a major vertical element or a play structure that identifies the park—something tall and towering that will build kids’ excitement as they approach. Whether similar to the beehive structure in their preliminary drawings or not, this vertical element will act as something the children can literally—and figuratively—ascend, symbolizing the journey that awaits inside the park. Tactile elements as well as tunnels, hills and gardens will also be part of the design.
“We plan to continue to build other universally accessible playgrounds as well,” says Richard. “Not only will this be great for the kids in our parish and service area, but we hope it will be a trendsetter for the rest of the country.”