Generous gifts from local leaders and tech giant Google have launched Magical Bridge Playground in Mountain View, and the loudest fans of this fifth location are parents.
Committing to inclusivity and community right in Google’s headquarter backyard, the technology company is investing $150,000 for the play space designed for residents and visitors of all ages and abilities. The City of Mountain View has committed $1 million with plans to build in Rengstorff Park in 2019.
“The Magical Bridge Playground is the latest demonstration of how people and organizations can come together to positively impact the lives of everyone in a community,” said Mayor Ken Rosenberg. “In Mountain View, we truly believe that communities should be welcome and accessible, and this project embodies the notion of a community for all.”
Parents of children with developmental and physical disabilities, cognitive differences and visual and hearing impairments say they’ve struggled to find safe, welcoming places to play, and Magical Bridge Playground in Mountain View is what their families and communities need.
A Community that Expands as Kids Grow
“We didn’t realize just how important community would be until our son was born in 1999,” local special needs community activist Lisa Zuegel says.
Her son Jeffrey was diagnosed with low-tone cerebral palsy when he was six-months old, which meant that his developmental milestones were “dramatically delayed.” The young mother was challenged to find a nearby park that didn’t require too much travel and later, was safe for a kid with special needs who just wanted to run.
“Going to the park was never a relaxing activity for our family once Jeffrey had overcome his orthopedic disabilities – he no longer needed his orthotics and wheelchair and all he wanted to do was run,” Zuegel recalls. “This meant we had to drive for miles to find a park that was fenced in – it would be too dangerous to be at a park where he could run off and we couldn’t keep up with him.”
Jeffrey was also called to climb, but park play structures were built so high his parents felt uncomfortable or couldn’t spot him in case he lost his balance. Then, as his abilities and confidence blossomed, the family felt judged for Jeffrey’s age.
“By the time Jeffrey was really enjoying parks, he looked ‘too old’ to be on the park structures. All of us would feel a bit out of place at the park, and have to be careful not to be in the way of little children on the structures,” Zuegel says.
Zuegel has created hope and opportunity where she hasn’t found it. As one of the creators of Say Yes, Play, Grow! and of Constellation Community Living, an innovative, inclusive approach to housing, her family and others have partnered up to create community and pathways for special needs children and the contributing adults they become.
“Our vision is to have our young adult children live in Mountain View interacting with friends and other community members for the rest of their lives,” she explains. “We believe that by building strong connections within community, ‘different’ will be valued and not ignored or threatened. We believe that our adult special needs children bring so much to the world – they make it a better kinder place – they cause everyone to pause and look at the world differently and with empathy and healthy curiosity. We believe that they need – no we all need – a constellation of support around us to thrive. But to get this constellation of support, we need public venues that bring those from all walks of life together. It’s the ties from within the community that build relationships and interdependence.”
Breaking Down Age Barriers
The Mountain View Magical Bridge playground is also hopeful sign to 24-year resident Fran Goodwin. Her eldest son Scott, who has autism and uses an iPad to communicate, will graduate from a special education school next year. Goodwin says finding spaces for her son to play, explore, climb and make friends has been difficult.
“Playing together is so important to build awareness of differences but more importantly to show what kids have in common. Friendships that happen in the playground continue at school and beyond,” Goodwin explains. “Having a playground build specifically for kids AND adults like Scott is so amazing. Having a place that is so popular for families without developmental disabilities, but that we know we have totally a right to be there, is such a relief. We feel this is OUR space to play, to belong and sharing fun and play with kids and adults who don’t have disabilities. That’s where the magic happens!”
How a Mom Got Her Parenting Play Back
When Mark Millet settled in Mountain View in the 1990s, he was helping ignite high-speed internet during the tech boom. Wife Anne Cohen Millet is a disability and health policy consultant who works to improve access to services. An active advocate and member of the Mountain View Chamber of Commerce, she’s also fueled by having a non progressive form of muscular dystrophy called myasthenia gravis that she developed in childhood. As a mom, she wanted to have access to play spaces where she and her kids could explore. As a Mountain View resident, she became acutely aware of how innovation was – and wasn’t – supporting the well-being of all its neighbors.
“Our tech-driven community has a tendency to steer children to technology tools and structured play and educational programs . As a result many children have less time for free exploratory play and are encouraged to focus on skills that will prepare for their future in our highly competitive environment,” Cohen Millet says.
She lobbied for inclusive design on development projects, drawing on her own childhood experiences of being excluded from playing with other kids as well as her own determination to have her son interact with with people from other cultures and with differing abilities. Sometimes, that has been exhausting for Cohen Millet.
To manage her “very active” four-year old’s boundless energy, she takes her son to parks several times a day. He’d take off running, and Cohen Millet says she’d be stuck, sinking into the sand on the playground, demoralized and out of energy. She began dreading the park visits even though professional experience told her that parent-child play is critical. She is a capable, engaged mother who did not have equal access to a basic community service simply because of inaccessible environment.
Magical Bridge Playground changed that. Cohen Millet loves Magical Bridge Playground’s creative, accessible design, especially the treehouse, musical harp and swing disks, spaces where she and her son can engage and play without non-stop chasing. Her son can run, jump, climb and slide within the safe open-zone boundaries of the gated play space, and Cohen Millet says she doesn’t have to worry about losing track of him. Magical Bridge’s mindful design includes surfaces that are easier to navigate, so that the sand, bark and other “traps” of playground surfaces that limited Cohen Millet at other parks are no longer an issue, she says.
“I have more energy so I can spend more time on the playground and have a more engaging, enjoyable experience,” Cohen Millet explains. “All families deserve a environment where everyone can play together. I love Magical Bridge because it fulfills that dream, but also because it’s not just an ‘accessible playground,’ it’s an innovative playground that reflects the forward-thinking design that Mountain View is known for.”
It takes a village to build a Magical Bridge Playground! Please consider supporting Magical Bridge Playground in Mountain View. Tax deductible contributions are needed to fully fund the project. All contributions of $300 and above will be recognized with a tile on the new donor wall inside the playground. Kindly give what you can…..
If your company or foundation is interested in zone sponsorship or corporate giving, please contact Jill Asher at firstname.lastname@example.org.
About Magical Bridge Foundation:
Magical Bridge Foundation is a 501(c) non-profit organization based in the heart of Silicon Valley, advocating for and bringing to life innovative and truly inclusive community and school playgrounds. Magical Bridge playgrounds delight and welcome everyone, regardless of ability, disability, size or age. Magical Bridge Playground in Palo Alto opened to the public in April 2015, and is heralded as the nation’s most innovative and inclusive playground. In addition to Magical Bridge Playground in Mountain View, playground projects are currently underway in northern California communities of Redwood City, Morgan Hill, Sunnyvale, and the Palo Alto Unified School District. Locations outside the Bay Area for parks and school playgrounds will be announced in 2018. Kindly visit Magical Bridge online at http://www.magicalbridge.org, and on Facebook and Twitter.
Press Release about Magical Bridge Playground coming to Mountain View’s Rengstorff Park.