Last weekend, The City’s parks and paths were full of San Franciscans enjoying blue skies and warm sunshine. These outdoor spaces have become hubs during the pandemic — a place to exercise, socialize and forget the miseries of 2020 (at least, for a bit).
And now children in neighborhoods where green, open fields are harder to find can enjoy these benefits too. Yesterday, Mayor London Breed announced that outdoor playgrounds are planned to reopen in mid-October.
It’s welcome news for kids, parents and other caregivers who have mostly stayed inside after playgrounds and recreation centers closed in March. Isabel and her toddler were only able to enjoy the nearby and newly renovated Turk Hyde Mini Park in the Tenderloin once before COVID-19 locked it up again. And there aren’t other outdoor spaces where her 2-year-old son can play close to them.
“It’s been very difficult because when we used to go outside and play, he would come home tired and ready for bed,” she told me through a La Voz Latina translator. “He doesn’t have that exercise anymore so his sleep is not as good. And my whole house is a playground — it’s upside down!”
While the mayor’s announcement promises an opportunity to give her son some exercise and get her house turned right-side-up again, Isabel expressed concern about playground safety. Her hesitance is shared by other parents and caregivers. Overcrowding and contaminated surfaces could lead to the spread of COVID-19.
The San Francisco Recreation and Park Department is working with the Department of Public Health to address these concerns when playgrounds reopen around Oct. 14, 2020. And other cities, which have already taken the padlocks off their play spaces, can provide examples. If San Franciscans follow the rules, we can ensure that all kids receive the benefits of outdoor play again.
In early June, Iowa, New York, Massachusetts, Ohio and Colorado reopened their playgrounds. To protect against contamination, cities, such as Denver, posted signs encouraging safe behavior. Parents and kids have followed the rules for the most part.
“At this point, people have learned what to do to be safe and healthy and protect others,” Scott Gilmore, the Denver deputy executive director of parks and planning, told me. “Our mayor has promoted wearing a mask and our governor has extended our mask order for another 30 days, so we’ve had a lot of support for good behavior and safe practices.”
The same is true here. Both Mayor Breed and Gov. Gavin Newsom have followed health officials’ recommendations and promote mask wearing, social distancing and hygiene. San Franciscans also practice these basic courtesies too; at least, for the most part. A recent report shows that The City has the lowest number of COVID-19 deaths out of major U.S. cities. Many credit San Franciscans’ good pandemic manners.
The hope is that San Franciscans will continue to take health guidance seriously at playgrounds. The Recreation and Park Department is working with the Department of Public Health to promote safe play.
“Kids have taken a disproportionate hit between having schools closed, sports ended and playdates canceled, and the pandemic is creating further disparities that need to stop,” Phil Ginsburg, the general manager of the Recreation and Park Department, told me. “Playgrounds are not a luxury. They are an essential part of the urban landscape that allows families to thrive. All children deserve to get out and play.”
Outdoor play provides multiple benefits for kids’ health, as well as the environment. A lack of physical activity can have negative impacts on children’s minds and bodies, including on their immune systems. Being cooped up inside can also impact kids’ attitudes about the planet. Studies have linked outside play with caring more about nature as adults.
It’s critical that Isabel, and all San Franciscans, feel comfortable enjoying The City’s newly reopened playgrounds. Let’s leave the monkeying around to the monkey bars and follow the simple rules for safe spaces: wear a mask, avoid crowds and wash your hands.
Robyn Purchia is an environmental attorney, environmental blogger and environmental activist who hikes, gardens and tree hugs in her spare time. She is a guest opinion columnist and her point of view is not necessarily that of the Examiner. Check her out at robynpurchia.com.