Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Playground Reviews: Lick Mill and Agnew Parks (Santa Clara)

Dear City of Santa Clara,

I hate to say this, but you've let me down. And not just me, but Toddler X, and really, toddlers everywhere. I believed in you, posted about you, tweeted about you. I included two of your parks (Alvarez and War Memorial) in my Best Toddler Playgrounds list, and as recently as this past Sunday, I declared your flagship Central Park as the shady place to be. I thought we were friends. 

And how do you repay me? With a double whammy of unimpressive -- in fact, unacceptable -- toddler parks today. Parks that look like they were built in 1980, back when people didn't know that unfinished wood can give kids splinters, and metal slides can scald off the outer layer of skin, and one baby swing just isn't enough. Back when sand was the only available ground covering, but parents didn't worry about it pouring out of shoes into the crevices of carseats because nobody was really using carseats anyway. And apparently back when building unfenced playgrounds within about 30 feet of moderately busy roads was an acceptable practice. 

Yes, today Toddler X and I visited Lick Mill Park and Agnew Park, and all of the above is what we found. Twice. The parks were apparently built at the same time because the structures were almost identical, with the exception that Agnew has a lower slide and two baby swings, versus Lick Mill's one, and Agnew is built facing a moderately busy street (Agnew Road), whereas the Lick Mill playground is a bit more sheltered. 

Given that they're so similar, and about a mile apart, I'll review them together:

-- Both have bathrooms and picnic tables 
-- Lick Mill has a large lawn, a good amount of morning shade, and street parking convenient to the playground on Vista Club Circle (if you park in the lot on Lick Mill Drive, you'll be walking the length of the park to get to the playground, with toddler in me, I did it). 
-- Toddler X enjoyed the bridge features on the play structure.

-- The play structures can best be described as antiquated -- I wouldn't be surprised if they were built 30 years ago -- with the wear and tear you'd expect in a structure almost as old as me. Pieces are chipping off, leaving exposed metal; splinters are sticking out of the wood (see pictures above for examples); and all the slides are metal. None of the fun modern features that kids love in new play structures are present. 
-- The structure at Lick Mill is distinctly not toddler friendly, with big openings everywhere and tall drop offs. The one at Agnew was a bit lower. 
-- Neither playground is fenced, and Agnew is located near a moderately busy street. 
-- Both playgrounds have sand as the ground covering. 
-- Lick Mill only has one baby swing, which was seriously occupied for the entire 20 minutes we were at the park. The swings are very close to the play structure -- if older kids had been there swinging, it would've been dangerous for toddlers. 

Now, I know the complaints above make me sound like an over-protective mom, and I agree that our generation made it through just fine with metal slides and splintery wooden structures, but my job here (my husband might question whether it's a "job", as I don't seem to be getting a paycheck, but that's another story) is to compare and contrast the playgrounds in our area to give toddler caretakers a better shot at finding a good one near them. I've seen enough playgrounds that I know how great they can be, and I know that Santa Clara knows how great they can be from their big successes elsewhere. 

So, City of Santa Clara, out with the old and in with the new. Both these playgrounds are within a stone's throw of the new 49ers stadium. How about you shift some of those state of the art materials and that design expertise (and, if you don't mind, some of the concessions -- I hear the new stadium will serve sushi) over to the toddler stomping grounds at Lick Mill and Agnew Park? Toddler X and his friends will thank you. 
(P.S. Just to show I had no hard feelings for Santa Clara, Toddler X and I stopped by War Memorial playground on our way home -- yep, three playgrounds in one morning -- and it was as wonderful as ever. Clean, modern, fun, virtually empty, with great features and great design. Santa Clara, you have redeemed yourself. But that sushi stand still would be nice...)


  1. Try Thamien park down the street from Lick Mill, it is modern with a good toddler zone, but still only 2 swings!

    1. Thanks so much for the suggestion! I'm adding it to my list. :)


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