Tuesday, October 1, 2013

Playground Review: Hamann Park (San Jose)


Those of you who saw my initial Facebook post about Hamann Park -- published on my first approach to this fully-fenced, shaded, uncrowded toddler playground -- may be surprised by what you're about to read. 

My first impression of Hamann was a vision of near toddler perfection -- every item on my playground checklist checked off. But fortunately I don't write playground reviews based on a simple "first glance" approach. Instead, I "play test" them with my own toddler, to give you a true report on what your experience here will be like. And as much as Hamann has to recommend it at first glance, ultimately it's a playground we will not visit again. Here's my report:

Pros
  • A fully-fenced and almost fully-shaded toddler area, with benches inside the gated enclosure. 
  • Baby swings located in a separate area to minimize collisions (swing area is not fenced, but they're pretty immobile in the swings, so not a problem). 
  • Easily accessible toddler play structure, with ramps as well as steps, and only one hole that a toddler could fall from (the hole is above stairs, so it really shouldn't be a concern, but with these particular stairs, it is -- more on that later). There is literally nowhere to fall off at the highest tier, which sounds wonderful until you read what I have to say below. 
  • Structure has three nice slides (technically five, as two of them are side-by-sides) of varying heights, with a nice twisty slide. 
  • Bathrooms, lawns, picnic tables and easy street parking. 
Cons 
  • Play structure is not the modern type found at most of the parks I've visited (and all of my top parks). It's starting to show wear and tear, and lacks most of the fun features of the newer structures. 
  • The stairs leading up to the middle level of the toddler structure -- the only opening through which a toddler could fall -- could not be more poorly designed for a children's (much less a toddlers') play structure. The stairs are steep, the treads are incredibly narrow, the handrails are awkwardly placed for a young child, and each step angles back over the step below it. Toddler X slipped trying to come down carefully on his belly -- generally the safest way down -- and I imagine he wasn't the first. 
  • Even worse, what initially seems like a nice feature -- no openings on the highest level of the structure besides the entries to the two slides -- quickly starts to seem idiotic when you realize that the ONLY way to reach that level is to crawl through a tunnel (middle picture) or actually scale a slide. Tunnels are not Toddler X's favorite thing, so this high, fun level was basically inaccessible to him, and I've heard from another mom that she was there when a toddler panicked on the top level, and his mom had to crawl through the narrow tunnel to get him down. Really just a poor design.
  • Ground surface is primarily sand, and the sand has a lot of debris from the trees overhead. 
  • I chatted with a neighborhood mom at the swings, and she said a big problem is the close proximity of two schools, including a middle school. After school, it seems to be a gathering place for preteens and teenagers to use unpleasant language and smoke unpleasant cigarettes. On weekends it is apparently crowded too, due to numerous soccer games on the surrounding fields. 
So after a thorough play test and my chat with the local mom, I came to the conclusion that Hamann is far from the perfect park I thought it to be at first sight. Although it has a few great qualities -- namely the shade and fenced enclosure -- with so many better playgrounds in our area, I see no need to go back to this one. This is a nice enough park if you live within walking distance, but I wouldn't make it a destination. 

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