9 Things You Can Do to Keep Parks SafeSee also: Outdoor Outings With Children
Community parks provide a place for families and friends to connect and unwind. They also offer good opportunities for exercise and reconnecting with your surroundings. Spending time in nature is incredibly good for your mental health – breathing fresh air, seeing greenery and getting vitamin D can boost your mood.
All healthy communities should have access to a safe, beautiful park. However, parks come with a unique set of risks. Undermulched playground equipment can lead to injuries and isolated parks can attract crime. Here are six things you can do to keep the parks in your community safe and user-friendly.
1. Build for Heat
Although some sunshine is a good thing, too much sun can be dangerous. Many people underestimate the negative impact of heat stroke, sun poisoning and sunburn on their health. A bad sunburn can lead to skin cancer, a disease that kills over 10,000 Americans every year.
You can enhance your park by planting trees and building shade structures. Children’s playgrounds should also have places where kids can sit and rest out of the sun. If you’re going to the park, wear sunscreen and take water with you. Make sure to monitor how you’re feeling and rest in the shade periodically.
2. Maintain Equipment
To protect kids on the playground, you should always update broken and damaged equipment quickly. Sharp surfaces or unsteady equipment can lead to injury and ruin the reputation of your park. You should also set up trash and recycling containers so it’s easy for people to be responsible and avoid littering.
When public areas are left unmaintained, they quickly attract abuse. The best way to avoid vandalism and unsavory business in a park is to attract families and upright community members to the area. It’s important to keep your park clean because safety-conscious people will instinctively avoid areas that look run-down.
3. Pick Up Litter
Even with recycling and trash receptacles, some litter will end up on the ground. You can keep your park clean by picking up trash every few weeks. To prevent further litter, talk to your city about building an art sculpture out of the trash you’ve already picked up. You could set this sculpture in the park along with a plaque urging people to dispose of trash properly.
Turn this into a community event by asking your neighbors to help you pick up any litter in your park space. People who help you pick up trash aren’t likely to throw it out their car window the next time it seems convenient. Cleaning litter off the ground will make your park safer for kids and the wildlife that makes this area their home.
4. Teach Kids Safety
It’s important to teach children guidelines for staying safe while at a park or playground. For example, it’s not a good idea for kids to climb up slides since another child may come down them. Kids who want to run must watch other children to avoid collisions. If someone gets seriously hurt, kids should know how to get adult help.
You should also teach kids how to engage with strangers. Children should never get into a stranger’s car or follow them away from the group. You can teach your kids how to assess new people and decide how trustworthy they are. Although it’s good for children to develop independence, they should never be left completely alone.
5. Protect the Playground
There should always be shock-absorbent material under playground equipment. It’s just a matter of time before a child falls off a swing or the monkey bars. Some approved materials for underfoot include wood mulch, rubber mulch and sand. These materials diffuse the shock of falling and help prevent serious injuries.
When designing or updating playground equipment, always check the regulations for fall surfacing. These numbers will tell you how deep and far material should go around equipment. Fall surfacing regulations are designed to protect as many kids as possible while still being cost-effective for your park.
6. Improve Visibility
Visibility is another way to make your park safe. There should be clear sightlines so that visitors can see other people from far away. Sightlines give people multiple ways to safely exit a location. If you include a map that shows how different areas and paths are connected, people will feel more secure exploring the corners of the park.
Both poor design and a lack of maintenance can hamper visibility in a park. Three things affect the sightlines at any location – buildings, plants like trees and shrubs and the lay of the land. You can improve safety at your park by working to offset any blockages caused by these elements. For example, you can build a trail above a lower valley path so it’s more visible.
7. Install Cameras
If a park is secluded, dimly lit and often empty, it’s more likely to attract criminal activity. People with nowhere to go and nothing to do often gravitate to public areas like parks. To keep your park safe, consider installing lighting and security cameras. Although these measures may not reduce the crime rate right away, they will attract park visitors who will crowd out unsavory characters over time.
If your park has been experiencing a high crime rate, installing a camera system may discourage repeated offenses. This will be more effective if someone monitors the cameras and contacts law enforcement while a crime is being committed. Most parks operate on a tight budget and may need community volunteers to carry out this kind of program.
8. Start a Watch Program
It’s impossible for the police to be present everywhere, especially in a larger city. You and your neighbors can take the initiative and start a neighborhood watch program to keep an eye out for any local criminal activity. Post signs around your park and surrounding neighborhood and start a Facebook group where you can post news of suspicious activity.
If you can, patrol the park perimeter several times a week. Criminals tend to gravitate toward unused areas where their activities won’t be noticed. If crime in your area is high, you may want to consider walking with a partner. Establishing a human presence in your area will help to protect your kids and make your park a safer place for them to play.
9. Host Park Events
Another way to get good people into your park is by hosting public events. You can throw a summer potluck, plan a race or host a nature walk. These events will draw upright citizens into your park while discouraging criminal behavior. You can even monetize these events and use the proceedings to update playground equipment and maintenance.
Start small with your local community for these events. If they’re going well, you can extend your invitations to a larger area. Hopefully, some of the people you invite will start hanging out in the park on a regular basis. The more people there are present, the higher your park security will be throughout the year. Make sure you obtain any necessary permits before getting started.
One Park at a Time
Parks bring a lot of value to communities, giving families and individuals the opportunity to gather together, invest in their health and explore the great outdoors. However, without the proper care and planning, parks can lead to personal injury and become a magnet for crime.
Follow these nine steps to keep your park safe for the neighboring community. Maintain all equipment, provide shade and use shock-absorbent materials under the playground. You can also improve visibility, install security equipment and teach children how to interact safely with others. By improving one park at a time, you can make the world a safer place.
About the Author
Ava Roman (she/her) is the Managing Editor of Revivalist, a women’s lifestyle magazine that empowers women to live their most authentic life. When Ava is not writing you'll find her in a yoga class, advocating for body positivity, whipping up something delicious in the kitchen, or smashing the patriarchy.