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Baby swings or picnic tables? New website will help you find the perfect Vancouver playground

The online directory was a Vancouver mom's pandemic project
A local mom has launched Vancouver Playgrounds, an online directory to help you find the perfect play spot

For parents deciding on a playground can be a chore.

Does it have a washroom? What's the ground like? Is it attached to a school? Now there's a website for that.

Yumiko Sasakawa had those same questions when she headed out with her two kids (ages six and two). Since there wasn't a resource, she decided to be resourceful and build one herself.

"I just taught myself over the summer of the pandemic how to make a website on Wordpress and I taught myself a little bit of coding," she tells Vancouver Is Awesome.

Building a site

A few months ago she launched Vancouver Playgrounds, a website not just dedicated to children's play areas in the city, but also a useful tool for parents looking for a destination.

The directory has interactive filters that let people choose the aspects of the playground they want. Parents can choose multiple filters to find the perfect park.

Need a park with baby swings, shade and picnic tables? Try Jones Park, or Pandora Park. How about something with a sandbox that isn't attached to a school? There's Almond Park and Trout Lake Park, for example. 

"I found it really hard to find detailed info about playgrounds and Google had very little and still does," says Sasakawa. "You see tiny pictures and you can't see what's there."

She could find 'best of' lists, but sometimes parents aren't looking for the best ever, she explains. Sometimes picnic tables are essential, or if it has a water park wading pool. For Sasakawa it was whether or not it had shade and if it had woodchips.

"Being a new parent, there's such a steep learning curve," she says of when she came up with the idea a couple of years ago. "You don't really want to add researching playgrounds to that huge plate of stuff you're trying to learn at the beginning.

"There just seemed to be a need for it, but no one was doing it because of course parents are really busy."

She started and stopped on the project at first, but when the pandemic hit it gave her the time to work on it. It also meant she was taking her kids to the park more nearly every day, and she was bored of going to the same ones all the time. So she decided it was a good time to explore.

"We'd go to the unpopular [parks] and see what those were about," she says.

So far the site has around 40 parks up, but she's been to around 100 as part of the project, she says. That means photos and notes on each of them. Over time she's found her six-year-old is a bit pickier about where he's playing and will offer commentary sometimes.

"He said 'This playground is as bad as slipping on a rotten onion,' because he got static electric shock from the slide," she says of one comment.

Her kids help in other ways too, by pointing out things she might not notice as an adult and little by little they're working through them all. She's not sure exactly how many there are in the city, since they can be managed by different organizations. The parks board has 160 or so she says, but there are school playgrounds and ones on private land that are open to the public.

So far the feedback has been positive.

One website user she's heard from has a son in a wheelchair. "It's been helpful for her looking at all the photos to know whether she should be taking her son there," Sasakawa says. "It's become a resource for landscape architects, also."

While she's continuing to add to the number of parks indexed, she's also working on new additions to the site, with a map feature and a blog, to let people know how it's all going.

Working as a parent

The project has been good for Sasakawa in a couple of ways. One is her mental health and getting to explore the city instead of going to the same park every day during the height of the pandemic. Additionally, it gives her a place to be creative. An animator who worked regularly before having kids, the Vancouver Playgrounds website has given her a creative outlet that she can work on her own schedule.

"It's been a really good creative outlet for me being that I can't really animate or draw right now with kids around," she says.

Borrowing a phrase fellow parent and creative Jessica Hische, Sasakawa notes it's difficult to do ambitious work when you're a parent to young children, but the site has given her a chance to "keep the creative pilot light on."

"Just keep it on so it's not entirely extinguished," she says. "It's been burning, it's not really bright, but the pilot light is on."