We Don’t Have Backyards in the City

Imagination Playground

We don’t have backyards in the city.

I mean, duh.  But think about it.  No. Back. Yards. No decks. No fluffy cushioned chaise loungers with pretty outdoor pillows.  No potty twenty steps away.  No sprinklers. No kiddie pools.  No nuthin’.

When I was very small, I had not only my backyard (that third of an acre that seemed to stretch on for miles) but all the backyards adjoining and those two or three houses beyond.  Nobody fenced off their yards in the 70s.  Or at least, not in my neighborhood and not with fences that you couldn’t crawl through.  We went outside to play. Not to “play date.”  I think my parents would have been worried if I were play dating.  Sounds suspicious.  I said goodbye to my mother and stayed outside for what felt like hours with no cell phone and nobody hovering over me.  I climbed trees and flew down hills that were thick with sled-splitting pine trees. I negotiated rules of games and imaginary landscapes on my own.  No one intervened to make sure I shared or that everyone else played fair or that we didn’t fall out of an elm on occasion.

So here’s my city kid.  And here I am.  The germaphobic mother of one that I completely admit myself to be. How does my little Bean learn to walk in a creek or scale a fence?

I worry about that.


I recently was invited to an event celebrating the opening of the flagship Imagination Playground on Burling Slip at South Street Seaport in lower Manhattan.  South Street Seaport is awesome.  I have literally been there three times in the twenty years I have lived here (don’t judge people, New York City is friggin huge).  The Seaport feels more like Baltimore or Boston to me than New York, which is no doubt a reflection of my complete unfamiliarity with it. But some clever people including architects and the Department of Parks and Recreation got together to create a new kind of play space down there.  A play space that fosters creative play. Imaginative exploration.  And, they hope, unlimited possibilities.  A space that doesn’t so much tell kids how to play, as provides materials with which to play: water, giant foam blocks, sand, burlap, rope.  This flagship Imagination Playground reflects the historical site in which it’s located and there’s definitely a nautical theme.  The playground was packed beyond belief.  A bit too crowded on that hot summer day for me to believe my sweet girl was having the same experience I had in the creek behind Liz’s grandmother’s farm. But I get the idea.  I see the potential.  And if there were twenty of these play spaces in NYC, or forty, or one hundred, maybe each kid could have his corner of water. A bit of beach. A hammock of her own.

Nonetheless, I like this idea. And I like the lesson it reminds me. That my daughter’s play is her work. And honestly, it’s none of my darn business.

Imagination Playground


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