During the brief, belated burst of spring warmth on Thursday afternoon, many of the kids and parents of the Northwest Side’s Montclare neighborhood gravitated toward Rutherford Sayre Park.
They found something that wasn’t there the last time the weather was as pleasant.
Right next to the swing sets and slides for little kids, the alderman has overseen the installation of new outdoor exercise equipment for the adults.
The idea is that the grown-ups get in a little physical activity even as they still can keep a wary eye on the kids using the park’s more traditional play equipment.
Ald. Chris Taliaferro says he saw a similar set-up when he traveled in 2015 to Poland, the homeland of many of his diverse constituents in the 29th Ward. Back home, he set out to emulate the concept that caught his attention in Dabrowa Tarnowska, a town in southeastern Poland.
“I thought that would be an excellent thing to bring back to our ward,” Taliaferro says. “We not only want to bring economic wealth to the ward, we also want a healthy community.”
Taliaferro says he tapped about $75,000 from his $1.3 million annual allotment of “aldermanic menu” money to pay for the installation of the new adult playground at Rutherford Sayre Park, 6871 W. Belden.
There’s outdoor equipment for adults at “about 24” other Chicago parks, says Jessica Maxey-Faulkner, spokeswoman for the park district. But she says she doesn’t know how many of those amenities are adjacent to children’s playgrounds, like the new facility at Rutherford Sayre Park.
Park District Board President Jesse Ruiz says he hopes the approach taken now in the 29th Ward, with adult equipment alongside children’s playgrounds, can spread across the city.
“I think it’s a great idea,” Ruiz says. “I can’t think of any downside. You have the dual benefit of children being at play and you can get exercise yourself.”
The ribbon-cutting ceremony for the adult playground at Rutherford Sayre Park will be on April 21. Many families already are taking advantage of the park’s newest amenity.
On Thursday afternoon, Giovanny Ortiz did pull-ups just feet away from where his two young sons played on the swings with his wife, Rina.
“I think it’s pretty cool,” says Ortiz, a 23-year-old tattoo artist originally from the Mexican state of Guerrero. “We can enjoy the day as a family.”
If not for the new equipment for big boys and girls of his size, Ortiz says he’d probably be sitting on a park bench, with one eye on Facebook and another on the kids.
“I’m doing this instead of being on the phone or doing nothing,” he says. “Your kids see you on the phone and they want to do what you’re doing instead of being active.”
Maribel Esteban, 30, checked out the instructions for using the adult equipment when she brought her kids — ages 12, 7 and 6 — to the park Thursday.
“This is the first park I’ve seen that has this,” Esteban says.
The idea is spreading rapidly, says Tom Norquist, senior vice president of innovation for Playcore, a manufacturer of fitness equipment in Chattanooga, Tenn.
“They’re getting tremendous use,” Norquist says of what the industry calls “fitness zones.”
“They’re high quality, and they’re free,” he adds. “You don’t have to join a gym.”
Dr. Stuart Brown, founder of the National Institute for Play in Carmel Valley, Calif., grew up in Chicago’s Morgan Park neighborhood, ice skating on flooded park fields and playing touch football.
He fully endorsed the 29th Ward’s new “mixed-age playground.”
“We retain the need to play throughout our lifetime,” Brown says. “The effects of severe play deprivation at any point in the life cycle are significant.”
Taxpayer dollars are increasingly scarce. Most of Taliaferro’s ward menu money has to — and does actually — go toward repaving cratered streets and alleys, or other infrastructure improvements.
Still, at least there’s some money left for the little things that can make the city’s neighborhoods more human and livable.