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Creating an Oasis in an Urban Setting

by Eric Mattes, CLA, RLA, ASLA, project manager, Schoor DePalma Inc.




This is about as close as a Hoboken kid is going to come to climbing rocks. The foot and hand-holds give kids the stability and balance that make climbers fun, challenging and safe.
Cost of Wisconsin
Playworld Came America

Hoboken, New Jersey is a densely populated and ethnically diverse community located directly across the Hudson River from New York City. Most people travel via mass transit from their high-rise apartments to the bustling city of Manhattan or to neighboring communities in northern New Jersey.






Madison Street Playground in Hoboken, N.J. was built by city residents with the assistance of city workers 25 years ago. The city allocated funds to upgrade the playground. The new design layout and park construction was a collaborative effort between Hoboken’s Department of Environmental Services, Schoor DePalma, Inc. and Abbott Contracting Co. Limited to a design for only a 7,498 sq. ft. area, the principal element is a splash pad at the center of the playground, with play elements on the periphery, and a shaded, peaceful spot at the entry (bottom right) for adults. The plant palette includes red maple and white ash trees, red osier dogwood and inkberry holly shrubs. The perennials and bulbs including purple cone flower, black-eyed Susan, lamb’s ear and daffodils.

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While the nation remains focused on climate change initiatives and the need for open space preservation, city common areas, such as parks and playgrounds are receiving long overdue attention. Madison Street Playground in Hoboken is a prime example of the need for a green area within the city. The park is approximately 25 years old and was originally built by city residents with the assistance of city workers. The playground has not been renovated since it was first built. Its modernization is an example of how a revitalized urban park can address a variety of community needs, while at the same time complying with a wide array of safety, environmental and regulatory constraints.






ABOVE & BELOW: Falls from play equipment is the number one concern for playground designers. There is 2.5 inches of poured-in-place rubberized surfacing beneath the play elements (3/8-inch thick colored wearing course over a 2 1/8-inch thick black wearing course).







Since renovation of existing public parks and acquisition of new open space is a priority for the current mayor and governing body of Hoboken, the city allocated funds to give the park a much needed upgrade. This upgrade was facilitated to make the park more inviting to children and adults, while ensuring compliance with the Americans with Disability Act (ADA), the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) and American Society for Testing and Materials (ASTM) requirements. These federal guidelines all help ensure the safety of the public as well as universal access for the handicapped. The CPSC is responsible for maintaining a degree of safety within the more than 15,000 consumer products under the agency’s jurisdiction. Because of its hard work and dedication to consumers, CPSC is responsible for a 30 percent decline in consumer product deaths and injuries over the last 30 years. ASTM is one of the largest voluntary standards development organizations in the world. Known for its technical standards for materials, ASTM is consistently at the forefront of infrastructure design, manufacturing and trade within its global constituency. The redesign and equipment upgrade at Madison Street Playground was completed in accordance with each agency’s requirements.






The entry into the park is designed as a sitting area for adults. This space includes precast concrete pavers, benches and a trash receptacle. These site amenities are steel and all powder coated blue to complement the colors chosen for the play and spray equipment components.


The design layout and park construction was a collaborative effort between the city of Hoboken’s Department of Environmental Services, Schoor DePalma, Inc. and the lowest bidder for construction, Abbott Contracting Company. With extensive experience in urban park design, Schoor DePalma was able to design this project within the small area (7,498 square feet) available. The conceptual design and contract drawings for the project were developed in the winter of 2006, and the playground reconstruction was completed in June 2007.






The play equipment at Madison Street Playground provides opportunities for the separation of two to five year olds and five to 12 year-old children in both the swing areas and the modular play equipment. Beyond the typical swings and slides, the modular play units include a Chain Cargo Net, Store Front Countertop, Climbing Ramps and a Chime Wall. Schoor DePalma’s landscape architects provided strategic locations for benches that allow care-givers to sit and supervise children within each designated play area.


Because of the park’s location in a portion of the city that is prone to flooding, project development for the new Madison Street Playground had a few challenges. To address potential flooding concerns, Hoboken’s Building Department required that the proposed electrical control panel for the playground’s spray equipment features be raised above the flood elevation to prevent future safety concerns and damage for the facility. Schoor DePalma’s design team engineered an underdrain system for the entire site to ensure that all areas of pavement and rubberized safety surfacing drain properly to the city’s storm drain system.






The colors chosen for all of the playground equipment complement the paint colors on the apartment building mural. The park’s location is within a portion of the city that is prone to flooding. Hoboken’s Building Department required the electrical control panel for the playground’s spray equipment (right) be raised above the flood elevation.


Maintaining Hoboken’s focus on developing a playground that would address the needs of area residents and improve the aesthetic of the surrounding neighborhood, the facility was outfitted with contemporary and durable playground equipment and site amenities from Columbia Cascade, a well known manufacturer of TimberForm & PipeLine equipment. The play equipment at Madison Street Playground provides opportunities for the separation of two to five year olds and five to 12 year-old children in both the swing areas and the modular play equipment. In addition, Schoor DePalma’s landscape architects provided strategic locations for benches that allow care-givers to sit and supervise children within each designated play area. Beyond the typical swings and slides, the modular play units include a Chain Cargo Net, Store Front Countertop, Climbing Ramps and a Chime Wall. All of the play equipment, spray equipment and site amenities are finished with a powder coating, which is virtually maintenance free and provides for rich colors that are ultraviolet stabilized, durable and smooth. This powder coating is also environmentally friendly, emitting no volatile solvents into the atmosphere. The colors chosen for all of the playground equipment complement the paint colors used on an existing mural that serves as a backdrop on an adjacent apartment building.






ABOVE & BELOW: There are bucket swings for the toddles and the standard seating arrangement for the bigger kids. All of the play equipment, spray equipment and site amenities are finished with a smooth and durable powder coating that is virtually maintenance free and provides rich, ultraviolet-stabilized colors. Ornamental grasses, including feather reed grass and dwarf fountain grass, soften the hard edges of the concrete curbs constructed to contain the planting areas.







An interactive water “spray ground” is located at the center of the playground. This area has become the greatest attraction within the facility and throughout the adjacent community. The spray equipment components are Water Odyssey, manufactured by Fountain People, Inc. The equipment consists of several water features that range in activity from constant water spraying to intermittent bursts of rainfall, providing a refreshing way for residents to enjoy themselves at the park during hot summer months.






An interactive water “spray ground” is located at the center of the playground. This area has become the greatest attraction within the facility and throughout the adjacent community. The spray equipment components are Water Odyssey, manufactured by Fountain People, Inc.


The spray equipment features include the Turn-A-Round™, Change Up™ and Simple Spray™ for younger children, as well as the Big Buckets™ and Spin Wheel™ for all ages. Each of these components has unique operating functions that allow children of all ages to enjoy them. For the Turn-A-Round, children up to six years of age must turn the top ball which directs the streams of water like a water cannon. This feature will turn off on its own once the spray area has been exceeded. To activate the Change Up, children step on the interactive jets and stop the flow of the water momentarily, which will increase the height of the Simple Spray nozzles at each end. The two Simple Spray nozzles vary between “on” and “off” to create a unique vertical splash component.






No matter how much colorful, interactive and fun play equipment you design for your playground, some kids prefer the “baser” instinctive play—what elders used to call “rough housing” or “cutting up.”


The Big Buckets are constantly filling up with water until they exceed a certain volume level, at which time they empty onto the children below. The operation of the buckets occurs at random, creating suspense, anticipation and finally surprise. The Spin Wheel provides a gentle splash from the water-driven paddle wheel, regulated by the speed at which the water hits it. All of the spray equipment components are controlled by a Dynamic Sequencing Controller, which causes them to operate in both fixed and “apparently random” sequences.






These young ladies are activating the Change Ups by stepping on the interactive jets, which arrest the flow of water momentarily, while increasing the height of the Simple Spray nozzles at each end. The two Simple Spray nozzles vary between “on” and “off” to create a unique vertical splash component.


The most important aspect of any playground is the safety surfacing, which of course is required under all play equipment components. The most significant safety factor relating to playground injuries remains the surface beneath and around play equipment. To address these concerns, a rubberized safety surface was installed and is color coated to differentiate the Spray Ground from the other play equipment. This poured-in-place rubberized surface is 3/8-inch thick over a concrete base in the spray equipment area and 2.5-inch thick in the play equipment areas (3/8-inch thick colored wearing course over a 2 1/8-inch thick black wearing course).






ABOVE & BELOW: At the Turn-A-Round, children turn the ball to direct streams of water. There are five noozles from which the water spouts. Here, the boy is putting his fingers in all but one of the openings to elicit a single, long fountain of water. (In case you’re wondering, the splashpad water is not recycled.)







To supplement the existing shade trees at the site, Schoor DePalma’s landscape architects softened the entire perimeter of the playground with a contiguous planting bed. This bed provides space for additional shade trees, shrubs, perennials and bulbs for seasonal interest. The plant palette includes red maple and white ash trees, red osier dogwood and inkberry holly shrubs, as well as a variety of perennials and bulbs including purple cone flower, black-eyed Susan, lamb’s ear and daffodils for early spring interest. The addition of ornamental grasses, including feather reed grass and dwarf fountain grass, soften the hard edges of the concrete curbs constructed to contain the planting areas.






Schoor DePalma’s design team engineered an underdrain system for the site to ensure all the pavement and rubberized safety surfacing drain properly to the city’s storm drain system.


The entry space into the park was designed as a sitting area for adults. This space includes precast concrete pavers, benches and a trash receptacle. These site amenities are all powder coated steel, blue in color, to complement the colors chosen for the play and spray equipment components.






The Big Buckets are constantly filling up until they exceed their volume threshold and surprise the kids with a shower. The Spin Wheel delivers a gentle splash from the water-driven paddle wheel, regulated by the speed at which the water hits it. All of the spray equipment components are controlled by a Dynamic Sequencing Controller, which operates in both fixed and apparently random sequences.


Madison Street Playground provides a refreshing and airy atmosphere within the context of the neighborhood streetscape, while in addition providing a pleasant view from the neighboring apartment buildings. With play activities for children year round, and a comfortable environment for adults and care-givers, this pocketsize playground serves as an oasis within the densely populated urban community in Hoboken.

About the author: Eric Mattes, CLA, RLA, ASLA is a graduate of the Landscape Architecture Program at Rutgers, the State University of New Jersey. He is a project manager at the firm of Schoor DePalma, a multidisciplinary design firm with over 1,100 employees. He has designed numerous urban projects throughout the region including several New York City parks for his former employer.

Hoboken, New Jersey

 

  • Location: Northern N.J., between Union City to the north and Jersey City to the south. Situated on the west bank of the Hudson River across from Manhattan and the West Village and Chelsea neighborhoods.Pop: 40,000Government: Mayor David Roberts and a nine-member city council.Per capita income: $43,195Median age: 30 History: Hoboken was originally an island and seasonal campsite of the Delaware Indians. The Delaware called the area Hobocan Hackingh, “land of the tobacco pipe,” and sold what today is Hoboken and part of Jersey City for wampum (white shell beads), cloth, 12 kettles, six guns, two blankets, one double kettle and half a barrel of beer.City Parks: Pier A Park; Church Square Park; Stevens Park; Sinatra Park (Frank was raised in Hoboken); Columbus Park; Elysian Park; and 14th St. Pier.
  • Notoriety: Once listed in Guinness Book of Records as the city with “most bars in a square mile.” The city used to have over 200 bars; now it is “over 100.” There is also an average of one church for every block.



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