Whenever my daughter asks me if she can go to the park as we drive by, I shudder. The Westgate Park playground is, as I overheard some mothers saying, “clearly designed by men without children.” Not only is it a hazard, with big openings in the railings up high where kids could fall, but it stands in the middle of a treeless field so by 11am the plastic and metal is blazing. The slides all face the south for extra exposure, they are too hot to touch let alone put your butt on. There is nowhere for parents to sit, aside from a low concrete wall and there are no swings. The other playground on the other side of the park does get some shade, but it is constructed only for older kids, and to the parent of a 2yr old, it looks even more treacherous than the heatstroke playground.
And so most of the time when I give in there is no one else there, certainly no one else my kid’s age. She gets out there, in the disintegrating wood chips that are supposed to count as ground cover and within minutes, starts to look forlorn. There are bells of different tones built into one side, but there is no mallet to strike them with. There are plastic knobs that spin in what looks like a maze, but it doesn’t actually do anything. I try to engage her, follow her around, but the equipment is so poorly designed that parents don’t really have a good way to spot. When other kids do show up, she watches them wistfully. There is something about the park that makes connection difficult. The Park is traditionally the place where parents start chatting, where kids get to meet other kids. But the Penn Valley experience is so devoid of joy that people behave as though they were waiting in line for the DMV: no one really wants to be there. Or maybe its more like McDonald’s: the interior is so unfriendly with it’s blinding lights and uncomfortable seating that it is clear whoever built it just wants you to leave.
The Pioneer Park in Nevada City, or Condon Park in Grass Valley, look like Shangri-la compared to Penn Valley’s lame excuse for a park. They are shaded, with benches, swings, and structures for little and big people. And it’s all relatively safe. There is no need to hover like a helicopter.
As a single parent of an only kid, I’d rather drive her the 30 minutes to NC or GV so we can both interact with people in a comfortable, safe setting. Penn Valley’s offerings are limited to sunburn and feelings of isolation.