More than ever in the current pandemic, our children in Santa Barbara need safe spaces to play, jump, slide, and race with others their age. Playing in outdoor playgrounds and play structures could serve as an ideal break from computer screen time and other indoor activities, but most park playgrounds in our city are unusable when exposed to the mid-day blistering sun, with few trees or canopies to protect children’s delicate skin, encourage exercise, promote social skills, and develop friendships.
Our ”Cool Parks for Kids Campaign” is circulating a letter to the City Council, City Parks and Recreation Department, and City Public Works Department, asking the city to please provide shade, be it in the form of cloth canopies or sails or trees, over Santa Barbara’s many sunbaked park playgrounds and play structures, and to factor in the cost of providing shade to any park upgrades or new parks.
Visit a park playground at Ortega, Stevens, Mesa, Shoreline, MacKenzie, Oak Park, or Tuckers Grove on a steamy hot sunny day, and you’ll visit a ghost town. While the rest of the scenic park may be shaded by beautiful trees and feature happy friends picnicking or walking their dogs alongside the creek, the playground swings sit idle because children, parents, and grandparents can’t stand the heat, which will only intensify with global warming.
Why should downtown’s Alameda Park playground, often over-run with kids, be one of the only, if not the only, full-service park with slides shaded by trees? It’s time to put our kids first by making all of our park play structures protected from the sun’s rays.
That’s, in part, what the city of Encinitas did in 2017, when city council members approved a $300,000 contract to install shade structures over three park playgrounds. Glendale, our neighbor down south, approved a similar project. It’s not necessary to build expensive cement canopies; trees and cloth sails will do just fine, but the budget for shade covering should be carved out of the General Fund with line items for Parks and Recreation and Public Works, not subsidized by businesses seeking to plaster their company logo over cloth sails and thus privatize the commons.
Some reading this may think we have more urgent matters at hand than safe play, but skin cancer does not play around and that’s what can develop if children are exposed to the burning hot sun. According to dermatologist Saira George, “One or two blistering sunburns double your child’s lifetime risk for melanoma.” We wouldn’t let our toddlers smoke, so why should we encourage them to risk skin cancer in the noon-day sun?
Not only that, but sun-sweltering playgrounds serve as disincentives for activity which might combat childhood obesity. According to KidsData, 40 percent of Santa Barbara County 5th graders are obese. Obese children often grow to be obese adults who face a greater risk of diabetes, heart disease and stroke, all which tax our health-care system.
On a practical level, family-oriented parks discourage crime, enhance property values and attract new homebuyers, thus increasing municipal coffers to pay for other city projects.
Let’s do right by our city and our children. Let’s shade our park playgrounds.
Marcy Winograd is a retired public school teacher and grandparent to two young children. John Douglas is a music instructor at Santa Barbara City College and has taught music in K-12 in Santa Barbara and Goleta.