As a lifetime resident of Oshkosh, the Little Oshkosh playground at Menominee Park, built by the community in 1997, was near and dear to my heart.
Little Oshkosh was like an enormous wooden castle where kids of all ages, including adults, could play for hours without even touching the ground. It had unique elements like a giant head with movable eyes that made the park stand out over other local playgrounds.
Due to the Little Oshkosh’s age and out-of-date safety standards, the playground of my youth was demolished in late October and replaced with the Oshkosh Community Playground, a cookie-cutter arrangement of bright playthings for kids to enjoy.
To many local children and parents, the new playground is a welcomed change and many even prefer it to Little Oshkosh, but as someone who grew up playing in Little Oshkosh, it’s lacking.
As I mentioned, Little Oshkosh was literally built by the community. It was a big event. And though the playground was no doubt highly planned and thought-out, it looked like something a kid dreamt up.
My biggest gripe with this new playground is that it doesn’t look like it came from the imagination of a child, but rather from a bunch of adults sitting around a conference table. Menominee Park is not special anymore.
Instead of a large sprawling dense jungle full of discoveries like Little Oshkosh, the new playground is made up of a bunch of scattered set pieces that look like they were picked from a catalog. This leaves a lot of empty space in the park, making it pretty empty compared to its predecessor.
The major advantage this park has compared to Little Oshkosh is that it’s much more safe for kids. The area is open enough, and the segments are designed in such a way that it’s much easier for a parent to keep an eye on their kids.
But to be honest, kids want, and need, a little danger. Getting lost and hiding from my parents was my absolute favorite thing about Little Oshkosh when I was a kid. I had my own personal hiding spot where no one could find me. Sure, it wasn’t necessarily safe or smart, but damn if it wasn’t fun.
When I was a kid, I always sought out the most dangerous areas of the playground to show off to my friends, staying away from the “little kid area.”
There’s no place to do that now. Now everywhere is the “little kid area.” Even the swings are too low, barely letting kids feel like they’re flying.
I have gotten, and will continue to get, criticism from parents about my thoughts on playground design. Yes, if you make playgrounds more dangerous, more kids will get hurt. Fine with me. But the reward for kids to get lost in their imagination and take risks in attempting to take on more dangerous playground equipment greatly outweighs the pain of a few bumps and bruises.
I’m happy to see that kids and parents are enjoying the new Oshkosh Community Playground, but it saddens me that many don’t see the act of play the same way I do. These new kinds of playgrounds remind me of an old episode of “The Simpsons” where Homer went crazy baby-proofing everything to the point no kids were having fun anymore.
I imagine if I ever have kids and my kid falls off a climbing rope or something, I know they’d get over it eventually and try again another time. Overcoming obstacles and being trusted like an adult is one of the gifts you can give a child, and it won’t be given at Menominee Park anymore.