Playing around in Amsterdam
It’s child’s play for Becky Russell who discovers 411 public playgrounds in Amsterdam to satiate her children’s need to play, play, play…
After trawling every street in the Dutch capital and discovering 411 public playgrounds, Becky Russell decided to publish her findings in a book, Play! Amsterdam. This is her story.
My marathon venture started innocently enough one grey Monday morning when my kids had finally had enough of the playground nearest our front door and the three others within a six-minute cycle ride. "I know, let's go visit every playground in Amsterdam!" I said on a whim, thinking how adventurous and spontaneous that must sound to my kids, and how that should fill up a few weeks of summer holiday.
Engaging all my initiative--something which I used to be very proud of before motherhood and baby-talk ground it away--I struck upon the idea of visiting the central Gemeente (city administration) and getting the list. They must surely have a list of operational public playgrounds in Amsterdam… But nope, that would have been too easy. Instead I was referred to each of the 14 local gemeenten to individually approach them and get their lists.
Fourteen phone calls, I thought? No problem. A slight hiccup in our plan, but I was undeterred and undeterrable.
Nope, nope and nope again… In some cases, the "nope" was even followed by a highly suspicious "… and why would you want such a list?" As if visiting the playgrounds with children to play on them would be low on the scale of possible answers to that question. At one gemeente I was grudgingly allowed to swing by and flip through a folder which turned out to contain a collection of papers which could have been assembled into a scrapbook or even assembled into a list, with a little care and attention. Was this the best they could do?
No one really seemed to know anything. At least, no one was telling. Thoughts rushed through my head – was there a cover-up, a funding scam, fraud or international intrigue? There was no list of playgrounds, which struck me as strange given that there are numerous initiatives in the city aimed at keeping kids busy at play.
The idea of cataloguing the ‘invisible’ playgrounds was born. Encouraged by friends who said they would definitely buy a guide if one existed, I set off on my quest: to document every public playground in Amsterdam inside the A10, south of the IJ River.
My method: to trawl every street—yes, EVERY--with a digital voice recorder and camera. My mode of transport: a bright green bakfiets. My explanation to my husband: “Just popping out.”
At first it was just a fun challenge. Then it became an obsession. Really, I thought, how many playgrounds can this city actually have? A lot, I discovered over time. Amsterdam's commitment to its families and the kids living here is nothing short of spectacular.
The selection I found was truly amazing and included an oasis of fun buried in a residential street accessed by an almost invisible alley, one with more trampolines than a circus, others whose aesthetic and materials are a tribute to sustainable innovation, green sanctuaries, industrial-look functional expression, tree houses and even playgrounds floating on water.
There were also negative surprises; playgrounds stencilled with graffiti, broken and vandalised equipment, and a few characterised by chronic neglect. In fact, in one instance I declined to take photographs as the ‘kids’ present all owned motor-cycles, chain smoked and may possibly have sought to borrow my camera on a long-term basis.
The core of my experience though is this: Amsterdam is riddled with public playgrounds offering free fun and challenging engagement for your kids.
Their locations are not always obvious, and there is no single map showing you where they are--until now. I hope you enjoy my book--and if you spot one that I’ve missed, let me know!
Becky Russell / Expatica
Becky Russel is an Amsterdam-based parent and communications consultant. You can find her playground findings in the newly released book, PLAY! AMSTERDAM, a practical guide to all the free, public play areas within the A10 ring road, south of the river Het IJ. For more information please visitwww.playamsterdam.nl.
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