Plans for a playground at Madison’s Brittingham Park are raising concerns about unintended consequences for the Bayview community and is testing the city’s racial equity and social justice initiative tool.
The waterfront park, located on Monona Bay at West Washington Avenue, was selected by city staff as the location for a universal "barrier-free" playground due to its central location and its proximity to a large population of residents with disabilities. Disability rights and services specialist Jason Glozier said parks are legally accessible, but they often are not entirely usable by those with disabilities, so the design of this park aims to be universally accessible.
The parks department held three input sessions on the plans, developing a proposal that locates the barrier-free playground by the existing shelter and parking lot on the southwest side of Brittingham Park and expands a playground on the eastern end by the boathouse. The plan also involves taking down the existing playground next to the central community gardens and replacing it with landforms, an issue that has nearby Bayview Foundation residents concerned.
“I think any playground or any addition to that park is a great idea, especially if it’s barrier-free and it’s accessible to folks in wheelchairs and folks who are differently-abled,” said Kabzuag Vaj, founder of nonprofit Freedom Inc., which operates a community center and low-income housing in the neighborhood. “The elders that I spoke to are in full support of that park. What we’re not in support of is removing the playground that’s by the garden.”
Many Hmong residents in the neighborhood work in the garden, Vaj said, while kids and grandchildren play within eyesight on the play structures. Though nearby, community members say the distance between the proposed playground and the existing one would be a barrier for small children and elders working in the garden.
“If the city is truly invested in decreasing the racial disparities and access to play and access to resources, why would they take away the park that’s closest to a community that needs it?” Vaj asked.
Freedom Inc. has organized to oppose the removal of the existing playground and has urged Madison’s equity program to get involved.
The city is now completing a racial equity and social justice analysis to get a full picture of community input and potential impacts. Recently hired Equity Coordinator Toriana Pettaway said she will meet with the parks department on Friday to present the analysis and allow parks officials to determine how to move forward.
“We’ve done the analysis, we’re making our recommendations, and the parks division still has the authority to do what’s necessary for the work they do every day,” Pettaway said.
She declined to elaborate on the department’s findings and recommendations, saying she wanted to wait until after meeting with the parks department.
Vaj said her main question is whether the equity tool will work or not.
“All I can say is that the community spoke, and no one wants the playground removed. If it is removed then it just goes to tell you that the parks are going to do what they were going to do anyway,” Vaj said.
Glozier said the planning process is on hold right now because this is a “major issue” and they want to know all the facts about what the impact may be.
Pettaway said the goal is to have some type of direction for how to move forward in January.