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Ghost-Box City Market? Nah, how about a Playground for All Ages?

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In this season of gratitude, among the blessings I count are the creativity and inclusiveness that characterize this town.

I could tally many examples, but Third Street Center embodies it all: As I write this, it’s bringing together the town’s English and Spanish-speaking communities for Dia de Los Muertes. Young adults are partying with KNDK in the Community Room while senior Zumba dancers are shaking their booties in the dance studio. Storytellers are honing their craft while artists are crafting holiday goodies. Wilderness is being defended, friends are meeting over coffee and spirituality is offered in at least three flavors.

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It’s hard to imagine Carbondale without the Third Street Center.

When City Market moves, we’re going to have a big empty box sitting on the southwest side of the roundabout. That’s happened all across the nation as retail stores have gone under, leaving towns stuck with “ghost boxes.” It appears that Glenwood Springs may have one in Safeway’s old spot.

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But when I drive by our slated-to-be-vacant City Market, I see opportunity. A creative reuse that could rank with Third Street or the way the old library got blasted into the creative sphere as the Launchpad.

My idea? How about a year-around, sensory-and-artistic “Playground All Ages.”

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On Facebook not long ago, Nancy Johnson posted an article on “Playgrounds for the Elderly.” (They’re big in Spain and Japan; they help preserve mobility as well as reducing loneliness and dementia.) Cole Wilson replied, “Completely worthy. Although I think we need for the special needs children first…”

Cole’s right. The nearest special-needs playground is in Grand Junction. That’s appalling!

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But this is Carbondale. I bet we could create an artistic, sensory, fun feast that would work for special needs kids, seniors and the disabled. There’s quite a bit of overlap in needs, and intergenerational spaces offer many benefits. That’s why Wichita designed a “Grandparents’ Park.”

I can point to some inspirational models. Children’s Hospital in Westminster created a Sensory Park. The online site KaBoom says that its “concrete paths are embedded with grooves and textured bumps, providing those in wheelchairs a wild ride” and prompting siblings to ask to borrow a wheelchair. There’s “water play, sand play and musical panels” rather like those I had fun with in Silverton.

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Moab also has a musical playground: Freenotes Harmony Park. It’s based on the idea that music is a universal language, one that builds bonds across cultures and generations. It turns out that the colorful, oversized Freenotes instruments I saw in Silverton are cousins to Moab’s. They were all designed by a Grammy Award-winning musician, Richard Cooke, and are manufactured in Durango, Colorado! Because of the way the xylophones, drums and gongs are designed, there are no wrong notes and everyone can play together.

Inspired yet?

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How about Bellevue, Washington’s Inspiration Playground? First envisioned by a local Rotary Club, it was designed by another Colorado firm, Design Concepts Landscape Architecture. The website ParentMap enthuses about “wheelchair-accessible saucer-style and adaptive swing seats as well as tot-and-parent swings,” noting that “even the sideline benches are suspended on swing chains, letting caregivers in on the fun.” There are “bouncers and egg-chair-style spinners; a four-person, wheelchair-friendly see-saw; and a cool, ramp-accessible glider that makes for a gently swaying ride all delighted kids at the grand opening.” And, of course, interactive musical instruments.

A major advocate behind Bellevue’s Inspiration Playground was Washington State’s Lieutenant Governor, Cyrus Habib, who has been blind since the age of 8. Habib said it’s “a physical example of how play, adventure and disability can coexist.”

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Many of these playgrounds got boosts from grants: from the AARP, from Outdoors Colorado, from local hospitals and businesses, even from Rotary.

If we built a Playground for All Ages here, I’m thinking it could even be a Senior project, meaning it could be a collaboration between the kind of Seniors who have so impressively erected solar panels at Roaring Fork High School and the kind of seniors that have formed the Carbondale Age-Friendly Community Initiative (CAFCI) and gotten our town designated an AARP “Age-Friendly” community.

If we built such a playground, it would be colorful, artistic, fun and inclusive — because that’s just how Carbondale is. I bet our artists, dancers, yoginis, world travelers, teachers and seniors are sparking ideas right now, just from reading this column.

So here’s a challenge; send ideas to me care of The Sopris Sun. I’ll write about them. And if you have a different, thinking-outside-the-ghost-box idea, write to me about that too. Judging by the sandhills and backhoes behind the 7-11, we’ve got a bit of time before City Market will be moving across the street.

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