Esplanade Playspace Opens to Help Boston Fight Childhood Obesity

November 8, 2011
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The climbing structure at the Esplanade Playspace.

Beacon Hill’s new 10,000 square-foot Esplanade Playspace is as exciting to the doctors as it is to the kids; experts say the park will play a leading role in helping Boston fight childhood obesity.

Until now, 5-to

Kids spinning at the new Esplanade Playspace, which opened Oct. 28.

12-year-olds in Beacon Hill, Back Bay and the West End have not had a designated space to play. Beacon Hill only had three playgrounds—Myrtle, Clarendon and TADpole, all geared towards toddlers.

“Older children need equipment devoted to what they like to do and to their physical abilities, but they’ve had to play in areas designed for pre-schoolers,” said State Rep. Marty Walz, whose district includes the Esplanade. “It wasn’t good for any of the children.”

The children of Boston are particularly at risk for childhood obesity, with a rate 18-percent higher than the nation’s, and they may even have shorter life expectancies than their parents or grandparents, according to Dr. Amy Fleischman, medical director of the optimal weight for life program at Children’s Hospital Boston.

But by providing the city’s older children with an expansive and safe outlet for active play, the Esplanade Playspace will help.

“Physical activity is essential for children in both prevention and treatment of childhood obesity,” Dr. Fleischman said. “We recommend 60 minutes per day of active play for young children, and this has been difficult in today’s environment of limited access to safe, fun areas.”

Dr. Abhinash Srivatsa, a pediatric endocrinologist at Children’s Hospital Boston, agreed.

“It’s more than just burning calories. [Outdoor play] improves resistance to insulin, the mechanism behind the development of type II diabetes, increases HDL, the good cholesterol, and improves blood pressure,” Dr. Srivatsa said. “In my opinion, there should be time for physical activity in every child’s school schedule, every day.”

Three years ago, Tani Marinovich, Beacon Hill mother and President of the Friends of the Esplanade Playspace realized her children were about to outgrow local playgrounds, and decided to take action. She came across some troubling statistics when she began her research.

“I found out that there has been a huge decline in children’s upper body strength,” Marinovich said. “This is the first generation that will not have as much strength as our generation had, so we really felt we had to do something about that.”

Marinovich and about 30 other local mothers started by inventing a word: playspace. Unlike a playground, Marinovich said a playspace is unconfined and designed for older children to enjoy the land, the river, and the trees while running and playing freely.

The $1.2 million playspace, which Marinovich calls “a gift to the state,” was built purely from the private donations of parents and neighbors throughout Boston, and includes a custom designed rock with Level 3 and 4 rock climbing, as well as a 15-foot climbing structure, a reading circle, and of course swings and slides.

Claire Corcoran, a South End mother of three children between the ages of 5 and 9, said she and her children couldn’t be more excited.

“We are committed to raising our family in the city and are thrilled to have a new playground to visit,” she said. “Continuing investment in playground and parks . . . is essential if more middle-class families continue to stay in Boston instead of moving to the suburbs.”

But Marinovich is careful to assert that the playspace belonged not only to Boston, but to the entire state, as well as the nation.

“Millions of people come to the Esplanade. We hope this will be a destination for families everywhere,” she said. “So many children are inside texting and playing video games, but we believe that, ‘If you build it, they will come.’ If all goes well, this playspace will set the bar for future playspaces, and encourage generations of children to live more active, healthier lives.”

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