All children benefit from play. Not just in uniforms on a team. Not just if they can walk, run or communicate with other children. Not just if they live in a “nice” neighborhood. All children. These same kids benefit when adults genuinely ask for their opinions, listen and use their input to build public spaces. Adults are not the authority on modern-day play and youth issues. Kids are.
While these facts are supported by decades of statistics, that doesn’t mean they occur all that often.
Why is the Niagara Falls Community Development Department so focused on public park improvements and participatory budgeting? Because children deserve more constructive and creative activities and city kids deserve a seat at the table.
This past week, the Hyde Park Inclusionary Playground officially opened. The playground is built for children of all physical and behavioral abilities, ready to accommodate wheelchairs, mobility challenges and hosts play spaces for children with special developmental and social needs. The project was paid for by a wide group of funders without the need for local tax payers dollars. The United States Department of Housing and Urban Development, John R. Oishei Foundation in partnership with the Niagara Falls City School District, New York State Health Foundation, Peter & Elizabeth Tower Foundation, and EMPOWER all stepped forward and addressed a critical community need.
The final product is impossible without their vision and generosity. Congressman Brian Higgins, the mayor, and all city council members worked together to advocate for the investment. Building a coalition of support built the playground. We sincerely thank everyone involved.
The most important feature of the Inclusionary Playground: it was not the government’s idea. It was yours. Citizens suggested, advocated, and directly voted for this project through participatory budgeting. You got together at the Duke Center and helped us design it. You did more than just post a social media comment about why something would not work. You showed up to make sure that it could. Thank you for that.
Participatory budgeting puts decision making directly in the hands of citizens, from day one. The Community Development Team firmly believes that residents are the experts on their streets. You know what your neighborhoods need and deserve ownership over investment that happen in them. Projects like the Inclusionary Playground, NF Skate Park, DeVeaux Woods Dog Park, and Niagara City Lofts are successful because they were planned and created in the public. While Niagara Falls is one of the first American city to consistently use participatory budgeting, we sincerely hope that the city will use it make more budget decisions in the future. We hope more cities use it because the process works. Most importantly, we hope you keep showing up to make decisions. The kids in this community benefit when you do. (Also, we hope you find time to play).
Seth Piccirillo is director of Niagara Falls Community Development and a lifelong resident of Niagara Falls