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Parks: Keepin' it Real in West Palm Beach

Sometimes simplicity is just better. One of my favorite towns, West Palm Beach, does it again. George Petty Park is a shining example of how a small do-it-yourself park makes a big impact.

Within walking distance from my favorite relative's house, I come here quite often. Situated on a small waterfront lot, George Petty Park is a low tech approach to public spaces. Beautiful water view? Check. Sandy beach? Check. Playground equipment? Check. But it's not what you think.


George Petty Park Today:

After a grueling day of keeping the kids quiet at a full day of Rosh Hashana services, we headed to the park. The big kids were pooped, so my sister and I brought the little one to the tot lot down the street. But to my surprise, the park now had a new set of playground equipment. It was colorful and modern and I found my adult self wanting to test it out!


George Petty Park Then:

A few years back, this park was really bare bones. A wooden swing set made of what looks like reclaimed wood pilings and a pretty basic swing was the extent of the equipment. There may have been a slide too and rickety picnic table. It was all that was needed because the star of the park was this!

Beach and ocean. In the words of my old client Tony C. "a thing of beauty".


The Future is Now

Flash forward five years later, and I see this. The old swing was replaced with this brightly colored and modern playground equipment. This transformation was a joint venture between the City of West Palm Beach and the neighborhood. Partially funded by the residents and installed by the City.

Just Two Pieces of Equipment Is All You Need!

This photograph gives a good sense of the layout of the space and the relationship to the water. The play area is tucked into the southwest corner, closest to the street so that little ones don't have too far to walk. It has just a simple swing set with four swings and more complex slide/monkey bar combo. There's also a modest bench and picnic table. The rest of the park is a vast open, grassy lot which slopes down to a sandy beach and the intracoastal waterway.

Another cool feature is the little bird house looking structure on the right side of the photo, which is really a book exchange- leave a book take a book, bring it back.


Variety Makes it Interesting:

But small doesn't necessarily mean boring. Standing from the top of the slide platform, I look down to see a variety of colors, heights, patterns, textures, shapes, monkey bars- and even a makeshift seat!


Mulch is Just Fine:

Sometimes as designers, we tend to overthink things. A simple blanket of wood chips is all that is needed to make the ground soft and safe for rowdy kiddos. It's easy to replace and relatively inexpensive. And a series of square wooden log keeps the mulch inside the play area. A temporary plastic ramps works just fine to help wheels cross over the edger.

Here's another view of the same space.

One Satisfied Customer:

If the kids like it, you're golden. We couldn't pull this one away. And who could blame her. They even had a panel of the solar system with a movable space ship that travels along it's own flight path!


Lesson Learned:

Work with what you have and highlight the natural features- in this case the beach and water and the wide open lawn. It doesn't have to be elaborate or expensive to be enjoyable, but create a separate space for playing. Spend your money on the playground equipment and fill in the rest with low cost budget solutions. And before you have the funds to make your dream happen, use more budget equipment as a place holder. Sometimes we want to make big changes all at once, but here in West Palm Beach is an example of how incremental changes can have a meaningful impact.

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