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Inclusive playground developer hopeful despite COVID-19

Jesse Vad

The Jakarta Post

California, United States  /  Wed, June 24, 2020  /  05:51 pm
Inclusive playground developer hopeful despite COVID-19

An inclusive playground by Magical Bridge Foundation. (Courtesy of/Magical Bridge Foundation)

Playgrounds probably aren’t what most people are thinking about these days, but some developers are still building playgrounds despite increased challenges.

The Magical Bridge Foundation develops inclusive playgrounds that can be accessed by anyone, including adults, seniors and people with disabilities. Even though COVID-19 has delayed timelines and complicated fundraising, the foundation is moving forward with its plans and is even looking to Singapore for future projects.

So far, Magical Bridge only runs a playground in Palo Alto, California, United States, but it is preparing to open a second one in Redwood City. The first was opened in 2015.

These playgrounds are meticulously designed with accessibility in mind. They are divided into zones, such as the spinning zone, the swinging zone and the kindness corner. These zones allow participants to avoid areas they don’t want to partake in. Magical Bridge also incorporates gentle auditory features and specific color patterns designed to accommodate playground goers who are impaired or medically fragile.

“It welcomes the body you were born into, the body you live in today and the body you will live in in the future,” said Jill Asher, executive director of the Magical Bridge Foundation.

The foundation was started by Asher’s business partner, Olenka Villarreal, who had difficulty finding playgrounds for her 17-year-old daughter who is disabled and functions at the cognitive level of a 1-year old.

After they opened the first playground in 2015, their lives changed as requests for more playgrounds came flooding in. Asher and Villarreal quit their jobs and dedicated themselves full-time to building playgrounds.

Their second playground in Redwood City was slated to open in June, but COVID-19 disrupted that plan. The playground is about 95 percent finished, but there are still finishing touches to be done. Asher estimated it would be complete within a month.

But moving forward isn’t as simple anymore. New considerations must be taken into account when the time comes to open. They also need to wait until California enters Phase 4 of reopening.

“There are just things we have to think about that we never had to before,” said Asher.

Now, Asher and others are trying to figure out how to make the playground as safe as possible in response to the ongoing pandemic.

Chris Beth, director of parks, recreation and community services of Redwood City, said the Magical Bridge playgrounds are naturally “COVID-19 era friendly” due to their open space and separated zones.

Beth said they’re thinking about installing handwashing stations, monitoring usage and having the community help keep the area disinfected. They may have to hire staff to help monitor the playground.

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Still, Beth hopes other communities around the world can look to Redwood City and see the benefits of such a playground. He hopes they’re able to incorporate aspects of Magical Bridge designs into other projects.

“With funding and the endorsement or support we could do more of this,” said Beth. “Why not be the leader in that?”

The pandemic has also created other challenges. These playgrounds are not cheap endeavors, costing millions of dollars to develop and relying on donations from philanthropists and companies.

Magical Bridge has ten more projects in progress, but one playground in Santa Clara, California, still needs about US$1 million to be fully funded. Asher said that, since the pandemic, donations had dried up.

Now she’s concerned about getting the funding needed. She believes that these community spaces will be necessary after the worst of the pandemic is over.

“This is something the community will need when we have the vaccine, once we’re back to some type of new normal” said Asher.  

Despite the challenges, Magical Bridge is still looking ahead into the future. The foundation has a donor who is funding potentially up to three playgrounds in Singapore. On June 19, Singapore reopened playgrounds and other community spaces, although people are required to wear masks and limit group numbers.

Asher says she wants to expand further: “We would love to explore ways of bringing a Magical Bridge playground to Indonesia.” (wng)

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The writer is an intern at The Jakarta Post.

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