THE NEW INDIAN ROAD PLAYGROUND – TRIBUTE OR TRAVESTY?

BY Chiara Sottile

Argus Construction is putting the finishing touches on Inwood’s Indian Road Playground. The renovated playground, named for its location at Indian Road and 214th Street, will have all new equipment and a new theme: Native American natural history. But leaders in the Native American community say designers missed the mark. Chiara Sottile of Columbia Radio News reports.

Check out Chiara’s site: theclaritypost.com

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19 Responses to “THE NEW INDIAN ROAD PLAYGROUND – TRIBUTE OR TRAVESTY?”

  1. renato sottile says:

    very objective and very well done. Good Diction!

  2. Dan Mills says:

    This is incredible. You guys seems to keep getting better. great work – avid reader.

  3. Caitlin says:

    Amazing!!!!

  4. dj boy says:

    I don’t want to be the negative one here, but I honestly don’t like it. I’m just thinking of it as a little kid who wants to go to the park and have a good time running around, etc. I wouldn’t want to go to an ugly playground with limited games and “learning activities” and seats that have backs that resemble male reproductive organs.

  5. Seaman Drake says:

    As a parent of two little kids, can we just drop the politics and enjoy this terrific, first-class new playground? Seriously – it’s a wondrous space compared to the asphalt and concrete environs of most uptown playgrounds, and I am 0.001% concerned about the whole “digging up artifacts” thing. Please. Most playground kids are way too young to understand any of this. I know my two year old, for example, will be mostly obsessed with filling his toy dump truck with sand. Does that make him an advocate for the diesel-spewing environment-threatening construction industry? No, he’s just a little boy playing with his toys, in the sand.

    So the architects had a little fun with the design (rather than just be plain old cookie cutter) and now it’s rubbed people the wrong way. Sorry, next time they’ll keep things more PC. But let’s not lose sight of the bigger picture, which is to upgrade the playground.

  6. InwoodHill says:

    Previous poster is correct – making any fuss over this is way overblown. The equipment is clearly from the Kompan Galaxy line (here is an example: http://products.kompan.com/gb/Products/Play_Equipment_6+/GALAXY/3563/Naos_GXY912.html) and not designed to insult Native Americans.

    Let the kids play.

  7. Seaman, thank you for your comments. You’re right, it’s terrific that Inwood’s kids will be getting a new playground! It seems neighborhood children are already excited about it–as portrayed at the end of the story.
    I don’t think anyone objects to Inwood getting a new playground.
    The objection, according to my sources, is that Parks built something based one someone else’s culture and didn’t consult those people. Native people were not able to contribute to the design. And, as it was designed, the archaeological dig is offensive, according to Native community members cited.
    The climbing equipment is of course just one element of the design and one part of the story. Multiple sources with knowledge of the plans said that the equipment, customized as it was for this playground, was done with Native American elements in mind, as that is the theme of the playground. Unfortunately, this was impossible to confirm by the NYC Department of Parks and Recreation because after multiple calls and emails, they declined to comment on specific design elements.

  8. Laura M Cheifetz says:

    I’m so glad you reported on this. This is about respect for all people. It is very disrespectful for non-Native American people to assume they can decide what is offensive or not offensive. Native Americans are perfectly able to decide what depiction of their communities should be available to children. NYC Parks Department should always ask the community!

    Good work! Looking forward to more.

  9. Joy Bailey says:

    Growing up in Mandan, North Dakota I had plenty of opportunities as a kid to play at parks that were supposedly teaching me about Native American culture and history. Unfortunately, the way that these parks were designed gave me and the other children playing there that Indian people are for the most part extinct. I learned nothing of the way of life or struggle of the Mandan people today. I consider this a huge disservice to my sisters and I and all the other children playing at those parks.

    Think of what a great park in NYC this could have been for all children if the local Indian community was consulted and included in its creation.

  10. Lindsey says:

    @Seaman

    I think you actually identified a huge part of the problem here: most playground kids ARE too young to understand what’s going on. They don’t understand the power dynamics and privilege inherent in taking sacred or cultural objects and making “toys” out of them, and they don’t see how the parks department is exercising this power without consulting Native communities. They learn (from playground structures, from kids books, from grade school curriculum) that Indians belong in the past, instead of how Native communities are actively fighting to maintain rights to their land and cultures today.

    You sound like a really caring parent; I hope you talk to your kids about these things so that they grow up knowing to think critically about what’s going around them.

  11. Seaman Drake says:

    Chiara, I understand the point but it’s over the top to raise this to the level of an actual issue, one that I assume is now holding up opening the playground?

    Would you demand that Parks consult an African consulate about the cultural significance of the hippos in the Safari Playground in Central Park? Or Audobon about a Big Bird statue? Of course not. I think this whole thing is one of those conspiracy theories that grows around the water cooler while blaming government (didn’t we just have an election on this theme)?

    Here’s a shot of a playground with the EXACT SAME “dreamcatcher” – it’s a sports playground, no idea where. Go to this link and watch the image slideshow under Build a Playground. (second or third image):

    http://projects.kaboom.org/

    I think there are more worthy issues out there to spend time on than harassing Parks about consulting the Lenape about playground design. I’d like my tax dollars spent on other activities.

  12. InwoodHill says:

    Let’s review actual, real problems at this playground and park:

    – parents and kids in the playground and on the paths approaching it tend to get bopped on the head by an endless stream of baseballs. It’s unnerving just to walk nearby. The fences need to be much taller.

    – speaking of baseball, it’s baseball baseball baseball baseball baseball for 9 months of the year. Large swaths of the accessible portions of the park can literally not be enjoyed because they are dedicated to the exclusive use of a subset of people who take up a lot of space, create a lot of litter, spit and urine and often have illegal PA systems at their games.

    – the park uses oil drums for trash cans instead of the decorative cans you find in Central or Riverside park. Many lampposts going up into the hills are broken. There are no granite curbs or even pavers along the paths, just cheap asphalt.

    – of the three playgrounds in the park, only Indian Road will now be up to code. The other two feature asphalt and a sprinkler. Not very fun or forgiving to scrapes and falls.

    – rangers have to constantly chase bbq and mega-sized birthday parties off to the peninsula in order to spare everyone else their commotion. The litter all over the park on a Monday morning is astonishing. More cleanup is needed.

    – bikes are not allowed in the park but still of course are in the park due to the necessity of connecting to the greenway. As a result there are no formal rules and problems with pedestrians occur. Bikes need to be legalized for certain paths, with signs posted.

    – there have been safety problems with assaults, requiring extra police patrols at one point

    – arborcide incidents remain unsolved

    Pick any of the above to become an activist about – these are things that affect quality of enjoyment in and around the park. Not getting quite the right interpretative history lesson from a piece of playground equipment is not exactly high on the priority list.

  13. I'm Saying says:

    What I think InwoodHill is trying to say is that, Dominicans have ruined Inwood Hill Park with their baseball addiction and their savage, jungle ways. And everyone should be up in arms about that and not some damn extinct Native people. Maybe I am wrong but that is what I got from his last comment. You have to love the Internet.

  14. Art Hoekstra says:

    Thanks Chiara!
    You really got me reflecting on what I learned as a young child about Native Americans and how I learned it.
    We played at Wampum Lake. The most exciting and popular activity was collecting arrowheads from the mounds near the lake, competing to expand our individual collections of Indian artifacts. I learned that disrespect for Native Americans, their spirituality, their ancestors, their possessions, their culture, their sacred grounds, is more fun than collecting baseball cards and cheaper!
    The trivializing silence of our parents and teachers affirmed that we could pursue our unaware collector competition with impunity. I was 44 years old before I learned any different.
    Art Hoekstra

  15. InwoodHill says:

    “I’m Saying”, you are throwing around racist tags to discredit a reasonable argument. I’m sorry if my use of the phrase “subset of people” had some racial meaning to you. I perhaps should have said “subset of park users”, which is what I really meant. The point was, there are active uses and passive uses, and Inwood Hill is besieged by active uses in its lowland areas — baseball and huge parties occupy much of the flat land of the park and it can be hard to just sit on a blanket unless you flee to the woods. Perhaps you would like to spend some time touring the park with me on a summer Saturday afternoon? Some of this can’t be helped — the park is a magnet for parties due to a lack of other options in upper Manhattan and the West Bronx — but design plays a role. The active uses also leave a pile of litter and urine in their wake. These are just facts.

    I could care less WHO is doing which activity – all I want is a park that is reasonably quiet (no music or PA), free of trash, made of first-class materials and allows as many uses by as many people as possible without conflict. The new playground is well designed in these aspects and I would like to see it opened.

  16. Miranda says:

    I hope that the local Native American community is not holding up the opening of this lovely park. When well-intentioned projects like this playground are held up by radicalized constituencies, and children are made to suffer, it not only alienates those who would otherwise have been sympathetic to their causes and concerns, it trivializes the suffering of those who experience real racism and acts of actual hate. Get your priorities in order and PLEASE: let the children play!

  17. Miranda, thank you for your comment. There has actually been an update, which, if you like, you can read here: http://uptowncollective.com/2010/11/11/native-american-concerns-yield-inwood-park-changes/
    Jennifer Hoppa (who works for Parks) said the playground was always supposed to be opened in Fall 2010, so technically it’s not much overdo. She said storms were the reason for the slight delay. There are only finishing touches remaining at this point; it could open as early as this weekend!

  18. Cornplanter says:

    @Miranda, I know that the general public may not be aware of what occurs in Indian Country on a regular basis, but Native Americans are subjected to real racism and acts of actual hate. The oversight of the Parks Department not consulting with the Native community is unacceptable because there are many opportunities to do so. The Lenape have vibrant communities in Oklahoma, New Jersey & Canada, several bona fide Native organizations exist in NYC, many knowledgable Lenape individuals live in the tri-state area, and several non-Native scholars as well. So there is no excuse for the Parks Dept. not to do the right thing. No one is opposed to children having fun, but if the Parks Dept. is using this as an educational opportunity as well, then they are obligated to teach the correct information and not offend in the process. Native Americans are real people, still in existence, contending with the very real issues of racism, stereotypes and trivialization of our cultures. We are not asking for people’s sympathy, we are simply asking for the same respect and consideration that any other American is entitled to.

  19. Radio says:

    [...] history. But leaders in the Native American community say designers missed the mark. Broadcast on The Uptown Collective. grab this–> LinkedIn Twitter Vimeo Facebook Flickr grab [...]

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