In Praise of Mall Playgrounds

Centre Eaton Montreal

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As we’ve only recently become parents, we’ve only recently became aware of a wonderful feature known as the mall playground. We first encountered these in Des Moines, when I happened to spot an area for children in a local mall known as South Ridge. I considered it then to be quite a savvy development, especially for the frigid winters of the American Midwest. The malls engender a fair amount of good will, at least from me, in giving us space to keep the kids happy. And when kids are happy, I’m happy.

Since then, we’ve researched the malls along our regular route between Kitchener and Des Moines. We know of free indoor playground spaces in Flint, Battle Creek and Iowa City, and we may look up additional places to play in Des Moines, Omaha and Lincoln. These spaces give Vivian and Nora a chance to run around, and some even offer complementary wifi service for parents, giving me a chance to do a little work while keeping an eye on our energetic tykes.

Strangely enough, I haven’t found these facilities in Canada, though it may be a case that I haven’t been looking very hard. However, I am familiar with Fairview Mall and Conestoga Mall in Kitchener, the Eaton Centre and Yorkdale Mall in Toronto, the Galleria in London and a few other places in the area. No such playgrounds exist. If I wanted to take Vivian and Nora someplace to be a little active, and if it was winter, and no Early Years facilities are available, I’m generally limited to using the local big box bookstores.

Mind you, the malls I’ve described, with the exception of the Galleria in London, are fairly prosperous, and plenty of malls in the United States are not. I’ve already talked about the emergence of “greyfields” to go with greenfield and brownfield developments in urban planning discussions. The malls that used to threaten the economic viability of urban cores have themselves been usurped by big box developments, while the urban cores themselves are making a comeback by focusing on their unique history, culture, diversity, walkability, and so on.

So, perhaps the emergence of mall playgrounds is a self-defense mechanism in response to the pressure of the big outdoor power centre. Our vibrant downtowns remain secure in their survival by playing to their urban strengths, and so to are the indoor malls, reminding parents at the end of the day that: hey, we’re climate controlled.

For this parent, anyway, it’s a brilliant strategy.

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