Let's Play! New Prairie District Park

Updated: Aug 30, 2018

Close your eyes, take a deep breath, and think back to your memories of climbing, swinging, and running through the playground as a child. These thoughts easily bring a smile to my face, and I’m sure to yours, so in honor of summer let's talk about the playground!

In the South Loop neighborhood of Chicago we are surrounded by high-rises, low-rises, and fortunately, the "green space" of parks and playground spaces.

Last week’s recent addition, Prairie District Park, a playground and dog park on 21st Street & Prairie Avenue, has quickily become a child’s paradise and a nice option for dog owners. It's not the old school playground from the 80's or 90's and has a modern vibe that is similar to the playground at Mary Bartelme Park in the West Loop.

Here is a quick review of the playground space encompassing a few perspectives:

  • My view as a pediatric physical therapist and 12-year member of the neighborhood and of this particular block area

  • A neighborhood parent with her two children under 6 on the playground that day.



If you have not visited yet, the playground is rich with sensory stimuli for a child. Visual and tactile experiences abound however the space also incorporates extensive vestibular opportunities which will challenge a child's balance and awareness. The floor is a smooth rubber material, likely recycled, however the Chicago Park District website does not list the material of the playground flooring. Regardless, it is a good protective cushion for "falls" and is great for ADA wheelchair accessibility.

There are 3 sides of the playground:

  • A smaller area for ages 6 month to 2-3 years old with more open space, miniature hills, and a small climbing/slide structure easy for parents to navigate

  • A more dynamic side for ages 4 and up with rope climbs, tight ropes, monkey bars, an extremely tall slide, a rubber ladder, and climbing/sliding poles

  • Water area with spouts and towers partitioned off by low rock barriers, which also happen to be fun for kids to climb



The water play section is a nice compliment for hot days and appears more rustic than playground water areas at other city parks. Large stones spout "arcs" of water and waterfall effects are produced from dark stone towers. The water feature appears to be on a timed cycle that alternates water spout locations and turns on every 2.5 - 3 minutes for a duration of approximately 20 seconds. During my time at the park, none of us adults could figure out the exact timing of the water cycle but most would recommend bringing a towel or a change of clothes for your child if you plan to stay for a while.



Strengths:

  • Each area is separated and gated (playground, dog park, and seating areas with tables)

  • Not similar to other South Loop parks and could be described as a “climbing and balance” park

  • Great sensory stimuli for kids (water, rocks, rope, etc.)

  • There is a drinking fountain and two tables with sun umbrellas inside the play area

  • Two low and wide swings good for under 6 yrs and developmental differences/ADA access

  • Water spouts to let kids cool off on hot days

  • Space to park strollers, scooters, bikes inside the play are



Challenges:

  • Depending on time of day it can be noisy due to construction of Marriott and DePaul arena

  • The large slide can get slippery due to kids who have played in the water spouts

  • On the large slide, larger/taller kids may build increased momentum downward, heading straight into the rock barrier. The rock barriers are ~ 7-8 feet from the bottom of the slide

  • The large slide has a rope ladder to reach the top and also has a "rope ladder" base, meaning their is no flat metal base to sit on before going down the slide, so younger children may lose confidence once at the top

  • Parallel two-bar slide/climbing pole (near drinking fountain) is close to the fenced gate if a child should slide down too fast they may careen into the gate (gate is ~8-10 feet)

  • Sound from the park vibrates off the surrounding buildings and echoes upward towards the loft/condo buildings. This could be an issue based on the time of day and for those who work from home






This park was estimated to cost an unbelievable $2 million dollars which was to be paid with tax incremental financing, according to DNAinfo. While I didn't realize parks of this size could carry such a hefty price tag, I am appreciative of our new community addition.

Additional thoughts and suggestions are welcomed about the new park!

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