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Kids review NYC parks: How do new playgrounds in Brooklyn fare?

Who better to review new kid-friendly spaces than New York City kids?

Domino Park, and its refinery-themed playground, on the Williamsburg waterfront.

This summer, New York is experiencing something of a park boom: No fewer than three major new parks have opened in Brooklyn and Queens, adding much-needed—and, it must be said, well-manicured—outdoor space to the city. And two of these new expanses—Domino Park and Brooklyn Bridge Park’s Pier 3—are hoping to lure in the smallest New Yorkers with a bevy of kid-friendly amenities.

At Domino Park, there’s a playground, designed by Mark Reigelman, that’s a sugar refinery in miniature—kids can climb up through a silo or stand inside a cabin, and there are plenty of fun elements like slides and climbing tunnels. Pier 3, meanwhile, has what it calls a “play labyrinth,” a winding pathway lined with different activities, including areas to climb and sound installations.

These new parks have been thoughtfully designed, but how do they fare when it comes to actually playing on them? We asked two New York City kids—Curbed architecture critic Alexandra Lange’s son Paul, 10, and daughter Romy, 7—to weigh in on these new playscapes.

To establish a reference point, I asked Paul and Romy about their favorite areas to play in New York City. “That’s a really hard question,” Paul noted. “We like a lot of parks!” One common theme: They both like having more choices; places where “you can do one thing, but if that’s too easy for you, you can do another thing,” as Paul put it.

Governors Island is high on their list of good spaces for play. “It has a lot of different parks with a lot of different things to do. It’s like one big park altogether with different parts in it,” Romy said. “It’s very adventurous,” Paul agreed.

With that established, let’s move on to the critique.

Pier 3’s “dance chimes” are a big hit with kids.
The fun house mirrors offer a new perspective for kids running through the labyrinth.

Pier 3

Brooklyn Bridge Park’s new “play labyrinth”—which has fun house mirrors, repurposed railway tracks, bollards to climb, and a nifty sound installation—got high marks from both kids. “I like that when you run through, there are lots of mirrors and reflections of yourself when you run,” Romy said.

“I really like the music pad, how when you step on it, it makes all the bell noises. I like how it feels when you stomp,” Paul noted.

But both kids felt that there could’ve been more. “There’s not a lot of things we can do,” Romy said. “It could have more things to play on. Pier 2 has a lot of things to do, that’s why I like it.”

On the huge lawn at Pier 3, large logs offer climbing opportunities.

The Pier’s expansive lawn—which park officials have hyped as a sort of waterfront Great Lawn—wasn’t necessarily a hit. “I felt like it had way too much space,” Paul said. “I liked the large logs. [But] this whole area [the labyrinth] could be bigger.”

Romy agreed: “If the field was smaller this could be bigger!”

Both kids think the park is best suited to older children—between the ages of “7 to 15,” according to Paul. “There are some things that are harder for little kids to accomplish in this park, like climbing up the things and the dance pad, you have to step really hard on. I think an older audience is better for this, but still, 7-15. 15 is the maximum for most parks!”

Domino Park’s themed playground has a miniature cabin, repurposed silos, catwalks, and other pint-sized replicas of refinery equipment.

Domino Park

A few miles up the East River waterfront, Domino Park—part of the larger Domino megaproject—offers a more curated experience, with different sections geared toward specific activities: there’s a dog run, a splash pad, a waterfront esplanade, and even a taco joint.

For kids, including Lange’s children, one of the most fun parts is the colorful playground, which itself has a few different components: a small cabin, a repurposed silo with a bouncy staircase, a slide, and plenty of space to run and climb.

Both Paul and Romy like the sugar theme at Domino Park, as well as some of the elements within. “I really liked the older kids section, where they had the giant tunnel with all the ropes and stuff that you could climb, and the steps,” Paul said. “There was kind of an age level in that because they had the steps, and they have ropes you can climb up.”

A rope tunnel for climbing is an element good for older kids.

And what about the other sections of the park? They both liked water features like the misting areas and splash pad, though “it didn’t go high enough,” according to Paul. “It really didn’t reach me, it was down to my legs. It was fine, it was very refreshing.”

But Romy said that there “could be more for the bigger kids.” Both kids agreed that, overall, the play space could be bigger.

“I feel like they could make it so the first part for older kids could also be for younger kids,” she explains. “I think they could do something different so everyone could be in the same park.”