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Paris Street: A Playground with an Interstellar, Cosmic Touch
By Michael Miyamoto, LASN
Landscape Architecture by CBA Landscape Architects, LLC


CBA Landscape Architects, of Cambridge, Mass., and the city of Boston rescued the Paris Street Playground after it had reached a state of dilapidation. The city spent nearly $770,000 to overhaul the East Boston play site. CBA began designing the new playground in March of 2013. The project went out to bid in the summer 2014, and the new park was built from the fall of 2014 to July 2015. Berliner Seilfabrik manufactured the CombiNation net climber with slide, for children ages 5-12. Fleming Brothers Inc. was hired as the contractor.
Photos: CBA Landscape Architects

The Paris Street Playground in East Boston, Mass., at one point in time, was in a serious state of disrepair. Locals who regularly used the park were worried about safety and security issues. The site would flood in heavy rain, and the equipment and other amenities had become weathered and worn.

Enter CBA Landscape Architects, of Cambridge, Mass., and the city of Boston's Parks and Recreation Department to work jointly toward a solution. It came in the form of a rather extensive overhaul, at a cost of nearly $770,000.


One of the more popular features of the playground is the splash pad, and a big reason why is the colorful image of the solar system that is embedded in the safety surface. This part of the play site is perhaps the "most eye-catching" part of Paris Street, said Clara Batchelor, ASLA, LEED AP, principal of CBA Landscape Architects, LLC. Vortex International made all the water spray features.

Paris Street's main features include a basketball court, a centralized play area, a tree-canopied lawn, and a stone-dust sports area. CBA's design reflects its focus on sustainability. The design team incorporated a deck pathway to protect the roots of a grove of existing shade trees, solar powered USB charging benches, LED site lighting, and low-water-use spray features in the splash pad. Paris Street, tucked between a public pool and community center, is used constantly by neighbors but was in desperate need of updating. Even the pavement and safety surface were question marks.

"Overall the city felt the space was under-serving the neighborhood, especially given that it received heavy use from the nearby community center's summer programs and the adjacent public pool," said Clara Batchelor, ASLA, LEED AP, founding principal of CBA Landscape Architects. In community meetings, many neighborhood residents said one of their major concerns was safety. CBA managed to deal with this problem by making subtle yet important adjustments to the layout of the park. The basketball court was previously isolated in the back section of the site and created a trouble spot.


CBA placed strong emphasis on sustainability. It incorporated a deck pathway to protect the roots of a grove of existing shade trees, solar powered USB charging benches and LED lighting into the design. Also, low-water-use spray features have been built into the splash pad. In terms of aesthetics, large, bright yellow stars stand out in the blue rubber safety surface, and the play structures reflect the blue and yellow overall theme of the park. DuMor Inc. manufactured the furnishings, including the tables, benches and bike racks. The USB solar-powered charging benches, called "Soofas," also collect and share location-based information like air quality and noise level data.

"By reorienting the basketball court 90 degrees, CBA was able to improve circulation throughout the park, while maximizing space for a variety of fun and challenging play experiences," Batchelor said. CBA also incorporated "visually transparent" play equipment into the playground, and that helped enhance the sight lines to the basketball court. The new play equipment includes a contemporary structure for preschool kids, a challenging rope climber for older children, swings and a spinner.

The design work began in March of 2013, the park went out to bid for construction in summer 2014, and the construction ran from fall 2014 to July 2015. The project was funded through the city's capital projects budget, and a youth-led program called "Youth Lead the Change" that is part of Boston Mayor Marty Walsh's effort to engage young people in civic affairs. Youth Lead the Change (YLC) is a global youth leadership development program that empowers students to unlock their leadership potential by developing tangible solutions to global problems, the YLC website states. "Students learn about their own passions and strengths, as well as core leadership skills such as collaboration, public speaking, time management and self knowledge. Students also have the opportunity to earn funding and support to implement their projects after the YLC camp ends."


This play equipment is for children ages 2-5, and it, too, mirrors the blue and yellow colors of Paris Street's theme. CBA wanted Paris Street to have a "strong identity," and that's one of the reasons it came up with its solar-system-and-stars approach, concepts that residents of the neighborhood have embraced.

In a side note, solar charging benches called "Soofas" have been installed in the park. These benches also collect and share location-based information like air quality and noise level data, the company's website states.

"Your cell phone doesn't just make phone calls, why should our benches just be seats?" Mayor Walsh said in a Boston news article published in 2014. "We are fortunate to have talented entrepreneurs and makers in Boston thinking creatively about sustainability and the next generation of amenities for our residents."

Most playgrounds revolve around a central theme, and Paris Street is no exception. Stars and planets of the solar system lend a cosmic, otherworldly touch to the site and give it a "strong identity" that neighborhood residents have embraced.

Big and bright yellow stars are prominently displayed in the blue rubber safety surface. The play structures reflect this theme with shades of blue and yellow. "Perhaps the most eye-catching feature is the solar system splash pad, which offers a variety of spray elements to cool a hot summer day and a visually bold graphic to draw in visitors of all ages," Batchelor said.

In terms of challenges, the layout of the park was a problem. There were also significant existing shallow-rooted shade trees (gleditsias) that had to be retained. Also, because of complicated drainage issues, locals often referred to Paris Street as "the Marsh," because of its tendency to flood during rains. The redesigned park took care of flooding problems.

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November 20, 2019, 3:10 pm PDT

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