Children’s playscapes are often messy, ingenious spaces cobbled together from whatever is at hand.  The embodied intelligence and determination is obvious and always worth following and learning from.
One hot, basketball hoop day some city boys took me on a tour of their neighborhood.  They meant for me to know how it feels to trudge through a succession of courts only to find each one damaged beyond repair.  We saw surfaces graffiti-ed up with gang signs and swear words, iron standards pried and pounded loose from their concrete bases, equipment hanging cock-eyed and at crazy, impossible angles.  Metal nets were torn apart and shredded with what must have been a crowbar, so that shards lay scattered on the ground with remaining links hanging limp in function-less rows like wet strands of dirty spaghetti.  It was so discouraging.

“This makes me want to throw up,”  I told them.

“Us too!” they insisted, nodding their heads in united agreement.  “Nothing we can do about it,” they muttered in angry disgust.  “Bums or big guys tear everything up.  Go look at the sandbox over there.”

I did take a peek at the sandbox – yucky, gross and very dangerous.  What once was a spacious wooden box of pine planks and comfortable ledges for sitting and digging with sieves, shovels, molds, scoops, tablespoons and fingers was now a ghastly garden of shattered glass, liquor labels, cigarette butts and junkie syringes.  Where cups of water from an adjacent fountain once encouraged the early science formation of mountains, mounds, hills, valleys and riverbeds, now only the overpowering stench of human urine puddled and pooled across the sandy expanse.

Maybe somewhere a Parks Authority Person could lean into a big map with a boast and point out the multitude of well-provisioned recreation opportunities, strategically located, available to all, discriminating against no one, equalizing the playing field for everyone but really it was a big, fat insult in the last analysis.  Yes, an insult and an eyesore to erect a Big Rock Candy Mountain and then allow all the yummy surfaces to remain covered with people debris and dog droppings.  Don’t Touch.  Don’t Explore.  Don’t Enjoy.  Don’t Return.

In the end, it was a big brother who took affirmative action. He and his friends confiscated a solid beam from the demolition salvage of a once elegant apartment greystone. The beam, standing over 7′ tall, was nailed into a platform of pallets discovered at the backdoor of a grocery store. To the underside of the pallets four wheels were attached, these liberated from a dolly at a nearby warehouse. The net was fashioned from a bright blue milk crate with its bottom carefully removed so no rough edges interfered with artfully executed slam-dunks. The contraption was then rolled into any street or alley space available for a game of pick-up and tucked away at night where no one could dismantle it. Amazing to behold.