My stepmother always asks if we are going to get a climbing structure for our Brooklyn backyard. And the answer is, "Over my husband’s dead body." He designed the backyard, which has a raised bed of grass, a strip of out-of-control sensitive ferns and a rectangular goldfish pond and fountain. Little Tikes would not go with our attempt at Japanese gardening. But even without the aesthetic hurdle (and we are not a no-plastic family) I wouldn’t want one. There’s a schoolyard with a climbing structure a block away, a charming neighborhood playground with sprinklers, vehicles and a curvy slide eight minutes away and another playground with a sandbox equidistant. Our only problem is that we tend to arrive at these spots earlier than the other parents (do other children just play quietly at home until 9 a.m.?), or sooner after a rainstorm. When there is no one else there, Paul doesn’t know what to do with himself.
Our neighborhood has always been greensward deprived, however, the one reason you might rank it lower than Park Slope. As of this spring, that problem was solved by the re-emergence of the Urban Meadow. In 2008, what was a vacant lot next door to Mother Cabrini Park was turned into the neighborhood’s backyard, with a stand of still-small trees, a swath of grass and a thick L-shaped surround of wildflowers. It was designed by Balmori Associates (a very well-known landscape firm) and XS Space. It didn’t look like much over the winter, but in the last month the meadow began beating back the urban. The flowers are now two feet high, a mix of Black-Eyed Susans, small white blossoms, a few purples mixed in. You no longer need to tell your child to stay out of the flowers and on the grass. There are jazz concerts all summer on Sunday afternoons and for $25 you can become a member and use the shed, which houses a grill, a table and a baby pool. Why mow your own, when you can just stroll over and use this one, with free friends for your toddler besides. It is so small and yet makes so much difference for the block and for the neighborhood. Mayor Bloomberg’s PlaNYC has more parks in more places as a prominent goal; climbing structures are nice, but it may be easier, cheaper and more appealing to more people to simply plant lawns for a city of apartment-dwellers.