Plea for an Old-Fashioned Kentucky Playground

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This seems like a cause worth supporting! It comes to us from a reader in Kentucky. – L.

Save Jacobson Playground

        There’s a wonderful playground at Jacobson Park in Lexington, Kentucky.  It’s a “creative playground,” so named because (obviously) it encourages children to be creative in their play.  Sure, there are swing sets and monkey bars.  But there are also wooden towers with twisty stairs and little wooden crawlways under them, ramps, sliding poles, bridges, and a wooden pirate ship.  The kids are not always viewable. Our children can play for hours on a playground like this, mostly unsupervised, making up all sorts of games with the other children (who come to it from all over the city).  This playground is 20  years old now, and is in danger of being demolished.

        It would be easy to frame this as a fight against evil city planners in bulldozers, but that wouldn’t be true in the slightest.  Our group of concerned citizens has met with the parks and recreation department, and they have been terrific.  They’re right that the playground needs work — although it has been well maintained, it’s a wooden structure nearing the end of its natural lifespan.  The parks and recreation planners are very open to hearing what we as a community want, but they’re pretty sure they know that safety is the absolute top priority for parents.  After all, wooden playgrounds can have splinters, sharp edges, and places where children can fall!

        What we’re really fighting against here is the mentality that safety trumps all else, no matter how small the actual danger is.  We understand that the city has to make certain changes because some laws have changed over the last twenty years.  However, we are standing up to say that we do not think the current playground is too dangerous, and we don’t want a new design for this particular playground.

        We love the Jacobson playground.  We think the city has some excellent ideas for new playgrounds, and there are lots of parks in Lexington that could benefit from these designs, but we want this playground to remain as it is.  We understand that the playground needs work, and we would like for the current playground to be refurbished or rebuilt with the current design intact.  If you agree, please support this effort by signing the petition at and by attending the meeting at 6:00pm August 14, Southland Christian Church, 2349 Richmond Road, Lexington, KY.  Thank you!

Caution: Playing here could result in unstructured fun.

Caution: Fun! 

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24 Responses to Plea for an Old-Fashioned Kentucky Playground

  1. no rest for the weary August 10, 2014 at 12:39 pm #

    Nothing meets today’s “safety codes.” So we need to address the “safety codes.”

    Look at the ones from the 1980’s (or earlier) and decide, anew, what actually needs to change in order to support ALL of the things parents and children value.

    “Safety” is one thing we all value. But there’s also growth, learning, development… and let’s not forget play. Play is not just a visceral need for children, it’s a strategy to meet almost all of those “higher order” needs.

    If they insist on razing this playground, I’d argue to replace it with something MUCH less expensive and MUCH more supportive of children’s creativity and growth: An adventure playground! (I was sort of hoping that’s what this already was, but the photos look lovely anyway).

  2. SteveS August 10, 2014 at 3:02 pm #

    Our town has a very similar playground. I am not sure when it was built, but I know that it was damaged in a wind storm seven or eight years ago. The city rebuilt it exactly the way it was before.

  3. Suzanne August 10, 2014 at 3:13 pm #

    This playground looks rather like the Jamie Bell Adventure Park in Toronto’s High Park. In 2012 an arsonist destroyed the playground and the community rallied around to have it rebuilt. I think it is telling that the new playground looks almost identical to the old one.

  4. Mariah August 10, 2014 at 4:18 pm #

    It looks like this playground was built with pressure treated lumber. While there are many examples of over-hyped safety concerns, I don’t think the concern about pressure treated lumber (containing arsenic and other known carcinogens) is one of them. The city should tear it down-not because “kids might get splinters” but because it’s made of a toxic substance.
    Rather than fighting to preserve what they have, local parents should be fighting to ensure the new playground provides opportunities for free, interactive play and creative risk.

  5. MichaelF August 10, 2014 at 5:14 pm #

    “Look at the ones from the 1980′s (or earlier) and decide, anew, what actually needs to change in order to support ALL of the things parents and children value”

    The thing that needs to change is the willingness of some people to sue, or lawyers getting municipalities to stop CYAing so that if some child is injured that there is no need to have multi-million dollar settlements. If we gave up the safety theatre, and the CYA about what is safe so playgrounds can say they meet “standards” then we’d have place kids can be creative. Although I find just leaving the kids alone they can be creative anywhere, but I really dislike the CYA theatre everything has to be put through these days.

  6. Papilio August 10, 2014 at 5:25 pm #

    Oh, I hope they get to copy the original playground with new materials! It looks fun as it is.

    A bit off-topic, but this
    is a yearly summer event in many places around the country (mine, that is). From what I gather, kids are roughly between 6 and 13, and then there are a few adult (could be 16+ as well) ‘building inspectors’ to make sure the construction is safe enough to climb in and on top of, given that they get quite high sometimes. It lasts between 2 and 5 days, and in some places the children get to spend the last night in their buildings. Traditionally it ends like this:
    (Jeugdbrandweer = youth firefighters.)

    So Lenore, if the Leave your kids in the Park day ever gets boring… 😉

  7. Kelly D. August 10, 2014 at 8:07 pm #

    There was a very similar playground in Georgetown, TX. I’m guessing it was built by the same people as this playground. My kids absolutely loved it. In the name of being inclusive and “safe,” they announced they were starting “Creative Playscape, Phase 2,” which sounded like another new playground might be added onto it in the huge park just behind it. Nope. They tore it down and it is now a plastic wonderland with a vague tilt of the head to the old, REALLY COOL, playground. Luckily, there is another one, but I don’t even tell friends where it is because I’m afraid that town will remember they have it and tear that one down, too.

  8. hineata August 10, 2014 at 9:30 pm #

    We had ones like the one in the picture and when it came time to renew them, the council tore them dow. They whined about ‘safety’ but it appears it was actually more about the cost involved in maintaining the wooden structures. Fortunately most primary and intermediate schools in the area have really great wooden playgrounds, so everyone just goes to those over the weekends and after school. I hope you get this one rebuilt, though, looks like great fun :-).

  9. BL August 10, 2014 at 10:44 pm #

    Here’s what real playground equipment is supposed to look like:

    1942, it says. I can assure you that sort of thing was still around decades later.

    But not now.


  10. JP Merzetti August 10, 2014 at 10:50 pm #

    Suggestion for Lexington:

    Scout around and find about a dozen or so kindly old grandfatherish geezers who are good with wood.
    Lure them out of the woodwork, so to speak…..
    ply them with beer, pretzels and civic citations –
    add to the mix another 2 dozen or so spry and younger hopefuls who wouldn’t mind learning at the feet of the masters…
    them haul back and let ’em all go at it!

    Renovate the heck out of the thing.
    If they can do it to houses, they can sure do it to an old playground.
    All it really needs is a facelift. And a little old-fashioned lovin’.

  11. mystic_eye August 11, 2014 at 12:19 am #

    The new part of the Jamie Bell playground looks sort of the same but it’s really not the same at all. The original one was designed by kids and it was very narrow and not inviting at all to a fully grown human. The new one is open and fairly easy for a fully grown human to navigate. One of my kids misses the old one, the other one never liked it because he’s more cautious and absolutely hates people in his space jostling him.

  12. Jill August 11, 2014 at 6:59 am #

    The sentence that stuck out in my mind was, “The kids are not always viewable.”

    The horror!

    If the kids are not always viewable, anything could be happening to them while they’re out of sight. They could be molested by a strange man lurking inside one of the play structures. They could be devoured by wild dogs or sucked into an inter-dimensional time-space portal. Not being visible to a responsible adult every single second means the children are in danger.

    But seriously, it looks like a very nice playground, and I hope it can be saved.

  13. Meagan August 11, 2014 at 7:56 am #

    Those wooden creative playgrounds from the 90s are some of my favorites. I’ve been taking pictures (and sometimes video) of some of my favorites lately, and all of them are creative spaces. (One in Delaware was fairly new, made with newer recycled materials!)

    Most of the modern playgrounds I’ve been to have had the same theme: climb up, go down a slide. Repeat. Creative spaces can be built to modern codes. There is a reasonably good one in my town: high towers, plenty of ways to move up and down and back and forth without ever touching the ground, the highest slides in the city. It isn’t quite the same as the castles and pirate ships and such of those 90s gems, but there can be creativity!

  14. Stacy August 11, 2014 at 9:20 am #

    “It looks like this playground was built with pressure treated lumber. While there are many examples of over-hyped safety concerns, I don’t think the concern about pressure treated lumber (containing arsenic and other known carcinogens) is one of them. The city should tear it down-not because “kids might get splinters” but because it’s made of a toxic substance.”

    This is why they tore down one of the wooden structures in our community, although they continued to let children play on it for another year, so how deadly was it really? The new playground has some interesting, challenging features and is not entirely “safe,” but no more hiding places or the “castle” feel that my kids liked. In fact, when promoting the new design, they specifically said that it would allow parents to see their children easier. I have a feeling that if they mention arsenic wood, you’ll never succeed in saving the playground, but if the effort doesn’t work, I would try to stay closely involved in the planning of the new playground. There are some interesting features that can be included to facilitate physical challenges and encourage imagination. One playground near us just added a huge net structure, which my kids pretend is a castle with many rooms, and it’s so high that my daredevil hasn’t made it to the top.

  15. Warren August 11, 2014 at 9:42 am #

    They were going to tear down a pressure treated wood playground, at one of my daughter’s schools. The principal asked me to walk thru it with the safety inspector. He listed all his concerns, and myself, my family and other parents did the labor, a local Home Hardware gave us the wood and screws at cost. A local plumber supplied pipe and welding. And in one weekend it was up to code.

    The safety inspector did not like it when I asked, “What playground equipment companies paid for the lobbyists to push for the changes?”

    The toxins in pressure treated wood are not a risk. It is just paranoia, like the paranoia of all the toxins you get from drinking the garden hose.

  16. Dirk August 11, 2014 at 9:42 am #

    Playgrounds exist like this everywhere.

  17. Stacy August 11, 2014 at 10:14 am #

    It was humorous that our wooden structure was SO dangerous and arsenic-filled that we had to tear down a community-built project (with memorials to dead loved ones) and replace it with a play structure that cost over a half million dollars…yet they allowed children to continue playing on it for nearly two years while they fundraised. But there was no convincing this organic, all natural community with deep pockets. It was just so exciting to design a new playground with a rain garden and educational signs! If the other wooden playground that we frequent more often falls victim to the same mentality, I will be ready to stage a protest, but fortunately it is not within the same city’s boundaries. On the bright side, the new structure does have some daring climbs and tall slides, and it was funny to see the inevitable parenting conflicts begin regarding whether toddlers should be allowed to move around the rocks in the rain garden and get their feet wet after a good rain.

  18. CrazyCatLady August 11, 2014 at 2:45 pm #

    Chestertown, MD had one like this. The community helped to build it on school grounds and they allowed community to come in and play…even during school hours.

    When kids were getting too many splinters, and there was concern about pressure treated wood, the town people came back in and covered or replaced the old wood with plastic decking wood. No more splinters, and no more dangerous than that water bottle that you drink from.

  19. Emily August 11, 2014 at 4:19 pm #

    1. That playground looks awesome, I think it’s great that people are lobbying to preserve the design in the new, renovated playground, and I hope the city accommodates this.

    2. I remember castle and pirate ship themed playgrounds when I was a kid, but honestly, it’s possible to follow a “theme” with plastic, boring, “safe” equipment. Observe:



    I wasn’t born in the 1970’s, but the playground was pretty much the same during my youth, as it was in the video that my friend Travis made. I miss the pirate ship, and the huge metal twirly slide, and, well, pretty much everything about the old park. At least one kid fell off that slide each summer, but my parents TOLD me and my brother that, and said, “That’s why, if you ever push and shove on that slide, instead of patiently waiting your turn, you won’t be allowed back on it for a Very Long Time.” I think that that’s a better idea than simply making everything so safe that it’s boring.

    3. Warren–I drank from the garden hose as a kid too, and I’m obviously still alive to tell the tale. In fact, there was something about garden-hose water that made it taste better than regular water from the kitchen.

    4. As for “adventure playgrounds,” my brother and I did a bit of that in our own backyard when we were kids. My dad built us a treehouse (well, a fort on stilts next to a tree, since we didn’t have any suitable trees for a conventional treehouse), and we built an expansion of sorts from scrap lumber, which was a complete eyesore next to my dad’s carefully measured work, but it was fun for us. I wonder what we’d have come up with if we’d had more materials, more space, and other kids to collaborate with?

    5. I just thought of this idea right now, but what if playgrounds had first aid supplies (Band-Aids, Bactine, alcohol swabs, chemical cold packs that don’t have to be frozen, etc.), right there, that could be taken on an “honour system” basis, and replenished as needed by either the city, or through donations from the public? The details would obviously have to be worked out, to ensure that the kits remained stocked, at least during the non-winter months, but I think that even the act of starting this would shift people’s thinking from “Must prevent even the smallest injuries at all costs,” to “Stuff happens, so we clean up and put on a Band-Aid and move on.” Maybe there could also be an emergency phone there, for people who don’t have cell phones–my gym has one, mounted on the wall by the un-lifeguarded pool. Keeping first aid supplies and an emergency phone on hand might even be cheaper than tearing down equipment every few years and replacing it with new, wimpier equipment, in compliance with new, more stringent safety codes. It’s gotten so ridiculous that the childcare at the YMCA where I live tore down their (very tame) preschool playground altogether, and now the kids just run and ride tricycles around a huge empty sand pit, in a tiny enclosed, paved area. All this while being supervised by responsible adults trained in first aid, with the necessary first aid supplies within easy access.

  20. Papilio August 11, 2014 at 4:57 pm #

    @Emily: “what if playgrounds had first aid supplies”
    Like a vending machine or something?

  21. Emily August 11, 2014 at 10:16 pm #

    @Papilio–A vending machine would be good, but I’d prefer an honour system; sort of like the “Take a Penny/Leave a Penny” thing at convenience stores. Band-Aids and other disposable items could be taken, obviously, and with things like Bactine, etc., you’d take what you needed, and then put it back. Also, people could donate supplies to the first aid kit, in order to keep it stocked. Alternatively, maybe there could be some kind of corporate sponsorship deal, where the companies could donate supplies in exchange for good publicity. If this worked, then it’d spread the message that the world isn’t such a scary place, that a bump or a scrape on the playground isn’t the end of the world, and for kids at the playground alone (in places where that’s still legal), it’d foster some independence, because it’d give them a chance to fix themselves up and keep right on playing.

  22. KH August 12, 2014 at 2:12 am #

    I grew up in Lexington. Jacobson Park was always a treat- green hills to roll down, huge open spaces… in my memory at least. I remember being jealous when this playground was built (I was too old for it by then.) It looked just wonderful.

    Very heartening to see the community rallying around it. Here’s hoping…

  23. B. Durbin August 13, 2014 at 12:15 am #

    There used to be two playgrounds like this in the region; one is still standing but the other fell victim to arson. The good news is that the rebuild was done with a lot of input from the community and with an eye to keeping it as interesting as the old one, if with fewer spaces that an adult could not fit. They did improve the line-of-sight but I think the bigger concern about the old playground was the number of spaces where an adult simply could not fit.

    Here’s an early rendering; some details were changed in the long run. They spent a lot of time designing local elements into the structures. It’s actually nicer than the old playground simply because the old one was getting worn down, and now you don’t have peeling rubber bridges and that sort of thing.

    Here are some photos of the opening; the photographer doesn’t show a whole lot of the structures, but it’s a big playground. (The one shown is the shorter of the two, I believe.)

    So—the upshot is that a rebuild can be done well, but there has to be a lot of community involvement to make that happen. Without input, they go to the bland.

  24. Laura August 16, 2014 at 2:47 pm #

    The playground in the picture looks to me like a Playground by Leathers a local to me playground builder. Our community is lucky to have several of these wonderful playgrounds. And the best part is that the playgrounds, which are lots of fun for kids, are often designed with the input of the community and then built by volunteers in that community. I don’t know if there are other groups that do this kind of community based playground building and design as well but I just thought I’d put that out there in case anyone reading needs help saving one of these playgrounds or getting one built in their community.