Destination Playground: David Rockwell Imagination Playground in Burling Slip

Playground in a box, South Street Seaport

The highly anticipated Imagination Playground opens today in Burling Slip. This revolutionary new play space took five years and seven million (privately funded) dollars to create. At this playground, there aren’t any jungle gyms, monkey bars or swings and it has only one measly slide, yet it is a “cutting edge playground for the 21st Century” according to David Rockwell, the designer of the play space and even Mayor Bloomberg calls it “a dynamic new way for children to play.” So what makes it so special? Mommy Poppins was there for the ribbon cutting and has the scoop. Read on to find out what makes this playground different from any other playground and why you should go.

The highlight of the Imagination Playground and what makes it different are the hundreds of loose components designed to spark children’s imagination, curiosity and allow for open ended play.  Around the space kids will find wheelbarrow style rolling carts, brooms and rakes, PVC pipes and joints along with pieces of fabric to play with.  The playground was created for creative play—not necessarily running your yayas out like other playgrounds (but I am sure some running and jumping will take place here, too). This type of play is necessary for children and particularly good for the current generation of over scheduled kids in a rush and hurry world.  


The most popular of the loose components, I expect, will be the playground in a boxpieces, blue, light weight, closed cell foam, that are kind of like kid sized building blocks (3-dimensional cubes, rectangles, triangles, semi circles and more).  All the blocks have holes in them so they can be joined together with other blocks via tubes (that resemble swimming noodles.)  A box full of everything a child needs to build life size creations, rip them down and start all over again.

The playground was conceived and created by David Rockwell, architect extraordinaire, and father to two NYC kids. Like most parents he had spent many days in our city’s playgrounds and found that they were all very similar in equipment and play experiences and he became interested in doing something a little different. He spent years researching and working with play advocacy groups to create this special play space specifically geared towards unstructured play.

The play ground itself is laid out from east to west like a figure eight or the infinity symbol. The east side is the water area with a small pool of water, a stream and a fountain all to manipulate with PVC pipes and joints, fabric and wooden plates to use as damns. Surrounding the area is a banked, three level, wooden deck with umbrellas for shade.

The west side is sand land, with a large, yellow enclosed slide that will dump kids right into the sand. (The tube slide is the only piece of “traditional” playground equipment in the place.)  In the center of the sand are these tall pulleys with fabric buckets attached for moving and dumping the sand. There is also a ramp that goes along the perimeter of the sand with cool knotted ropes for climbing and some much needed shade underneath.


The play space has a nautical look; in fact, it reminded me of a ships deck, which isn’t surprising being a stones throw from the East River and the South Street Seaport. The space is decorated with nautical flags and weather vanes. Off to the side there is large, red, metal, crow’s nest that contains the all important bathroom and has a top floor with a nice view.  Also, right in the center of the playground is a large red and yellow structure made of pipes with what look like ships horns sticking out of it, that I think is the Listening Forest. 

Another cool thing about this park is that the New York City Parks Department has hired and trained “play associates” to man the playground. Their job is to keep the park safe and clean as well as keeping the supply of loose components maintained and available.

One negative is that there is a lot of sun here and not too many tall buildings or trees to block it out.  The eastern end of the playground has umbrellas for shade and I understand that there are to be trees put outside the perimeter of the park at some point, but for the time being—don’t forget the sunscreen.  

Before you head down to the Imagination Playground, find out more fun activities for a day at the South Street Seaport

More Mommy Poppins reviews of destination playgrounds in New York City

Imagination Playground
158 John Street Burling Slip between Front Street and South Street
New York , NY 40° 42' 22.9104" N, 74° 0' 16.3296" W
New York