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May 12, 2005: Two city inspectors came to Dufferin Grove playground to walk around with five of us. The rec staff had dug up the sand with a couple of community-service-order youth, and we wanted to know if a simple digging, which could be a daily staff task, would pass the CSA playground surface test. So the men set up their shiny high-tech accelerometer (a metal ball on a wire). The dug-up sand passed at every spot that had been dug, with honours. No need for a pricey sand replacement.
After the “drop tests” were done, we went through the list of the playground parts condemned in the 1998 Canadian Standards Association inspection. One of the inspectors said he might have done the original report, but he couldn't remember now because they inspected so many.
With the carnage of playground destruction all over the city, it must be hard to keep it all straight.
In the inspection report, at Dufferin Grove playground, half the swings on the big swing frame are slated to be removed. The climber has to go. All the baby swings on the centre structure are supposed to come off, and the little slide there too, and the broad slide nearby. All horizontal railings have to be replaced by tight vertical pickets engineered so they are impossible to climb. As the inspectors walked around with us, they described in each case what injuries could happen. Kids on swings could go sideways and smash into other kids on swings. Kids could climb on a railing, fall and break their necks. The conversation was full of dreadful images, smashed heads with permanent brain damage, strangling on monkey bars, complex fractures with permanent impairment from falling off the side of the slide. The only thing that would let the inspectors sleep well at night, as far as we could tell, would be ripping out the whole playground and starting over with a new structure.
We said, “we don't want a new structure. We like this one.” They said, “why wouldn't you want something brand new instead?” “We said, would you like to throw out all your living room furniture, your favourite comfortable chair, the couch, the table you got from your grandfather, and replace it all with new stuff from the store?” They said “.....hm.”
These inspector-fellows are urged to imagine the worst thing, the one-in-a-million disaster that could happen in this world where gravity exists. They are not trained in math, so in their minds an event that happened once in a million times – on a playground, on the street, in the bedroom – is almost a sure thing to happen again, right here. Their mantra is: if even one child is saved from a terrible accident, all of the changes made in playgrounds will have been worth it. When we told them that the playground accidents in Toronto had gone UP since the great playground destruction that began here in 2000, they said that was not possible. It might be that emergency room visits had increased because parents are so neurotic that they'll take their kids to the hospital for nothing. But “no,” we said, “the number of at-least-one-night hospital stays has gone up. In other words, real injuries have increased since you guys put in what you hoped was "safe" equipment.”
They were stumped. But only for a little while. When there's a new statistic that makes no sense in this CSA-safety-world, it can't find a toehold, so it just fades away. The inspectors left the playground with a promise to come back and fix all the dangers as soon as they could get the time.
I sent my account of the walkabout to Maya, and her answering e-mail was a passionate rant. “A boring playground is a dangerous playground. All those measures put into place by CSA to prevent falls by the use of pickets, and changing all surfaces so kids can’t balance—making them pointy. They are telling children that these spaces are not part of the playground, not for climbing on! But they don’t provide anywhere to climb and healthy, active, normal kids will always climb so, at the playground……kids are naturally climbing more dangerously than ever before! So, kids are FALLING and getting injured more than ever before! Nobody told the kids that playgrounds are just for walking, standing and kicking at the dirt. So they still behave like normal, active kids and they still try to climb! Dumb kids! Playgrounds are dangerous. Stop climbing!”