Plan for Play: A Framework for Rebuilding and Managing Central Park’s Playgrounds

For the past 40 years, the Central Park Conservancy has restored Central Park, reviving its landscapes, water bodies, and facilities after a long period of severe neglect. This work has also included the renovation and reconstruction of the Park’s 21 playgrounds. For the first 30 years of the Conservancy’s existence, most playground projects happened as the need and opportunity arose. In 2011, the Conservancy completed Plan for Play, a comprehensive framework for rebuilding and managing the Park’s playgrounds. This framework guides all work in playgrounds, allowing us to create renewed play spaces that support the Park’s greater purpose as a place for healthful recreation, and highlights the importance of children as Park visitors.

Then & Now: The Margaret L. Kempner Playground

The same comprehensive and consistent approach that has been applied to the restoration and management of the Park as a whole has now also been applied to playgrounds. This approach requires an understanding of their history and an appreciation of their place in the larger history of the Park, as well as knowledge of contemporary theories of play, current approaches to playground design, and design standards for accessibility and safety.

Perhaps most importantly, Plan for Play reexamined the playgrounds in the context of the Park—for the first time since they were built in the 1930s—to reverse the past conceptions of them as isolated recreational spaces. Recent work in playgrounds considers them in the context of the surrounding parkland and the play opportunities it offers, adding lower fences and new plantings, and creating other connections to surrounding landscapes. The landscape has inherent recreational value for children, and the transformation of the Park during the past 40 years has increased opportunities for play as well as for improved connections between the playgrounds and the Park.

Since 2013, we’ve completed reconstruction, renovation, and repair work in 14 playgrounds under the Plan for Play framework. We are now focused on sustaining them into the future, while simultaneously preparing for upcoming work on the following playgrounds: