Volume 23, Number 121 | The Newspaper of Lower Manhattan | July 28 - August 3, 2010

Downtown Express photo by John Bayles

Mayor Michael Bloomberg paid a visit to the Seaport on Tuesday to help open the Imagination Playground at Burling Slip, conceived and designed by the architect David Rockwell.

A different kind of playground opens at Burling Slip in the Seaport

BY John Bayles

The phrase of the day at the opening of the Imagination Playground at Burling Slip was “public private partnership.” Nearly every speaker at the press conference on Tuesday used it, from Mayor Michael Bloomberg to Community Board 1 Chair Julie Menin.

The playground indeed is the result of collaboration between the public and private sectors. The Lower Manhattan Development Corporation gave $4.5 million, the City Department of Environmental Protection gave $3 million and the space was designed pro-bono by the architect David Rockwell.

The playground has been five years in the making. Mayor Bloomberg said, “Every time I go by here, I’m looking and wondering when is this thing going to get done. The answer is now.”

The mayor described the play space as “interactive and transformative” and said it allows “kids to create worlds of their own design.”

David Rockwell, who is a Lower Manhattan resident, is an accomplished set designer for both Hollywood and Broadway and approached the city “out of the blue” when he began thinking about how most of the city’s playgrounds were practically the same. He said he “became obsessed with figuring it out” and looked to his own kids, Sam and Lola, for inspiration.

“The fact is kids do their best work when they use their creativity,” said Rockwell.

He said when he was thinking about the space’s design, whatever he gave his children to play with, they turned it upside down and took it apart. The result is that the Imagination Playground is made up of hundreds of moveable objects and nothing is tied to the ground.

“Kids know what to do better than grown-ups when it comes to public planning,” he joked.

Speaker Silver said he wished he had a playground like the one Rockwell designed when he was a kid in the neighborhood.

“It sure beats playing in the street and watching your only baseball roll into the sewer,” said the speaker.

And Menin quoted Albert Einstein at the press conference, alluding to the playground’s name.

“Einstein said, ‘Imagination is more important than knowledge,’” remarked Menin.

She said when she met with Rockwell for lunch years ago, he literally “sketched out a design of the playground on a napkin.”

Menin, who also serves on the board of the L.M.D.C., praised the corporation for granting the funds to help build the playground and said it was a “perfect example of what the money should go to in the future.”

But all of the speakers, including Senator Daniel Squadron, council member Margaret Chin and borough President Scott Stringer brought up the “public private partnership” that led to the playground. They said such endeavors were critical to the city’s plan to continue leading the way in creating green spaces as well as playgrounds and parks. And Rockwell too acknowledged the administration for fostering collaboration.

“I’ve been inspired over and over again by the dedication of this administration,” he said. “I don’t think the Imagination Playground could happen in any other city in the world.”

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