“There is poop going into the East River,” the teacher says, sprinkling black specks onto a cutaway model consisting of buildings, streets, and sewer pipes. It is week three of design class at P.S. 15, the Roberto Clemente School, on Manhattan’s Lower East Side, and a group of third graders is participating in the New York City Playgrounds Program, which, led by the Trust for Public Land (TPL), transforms asphalt inner-city schoolyards into community parks.
The teacher, Maddalena Polletta, who is TPL’s participatory design educator, is describing how storms can overwhelm New York City’s combined stormwater–sewer system and cause it to overflow. Seated around Polletta in a semicircle, the children are wide-eyed. “Your playground is impervious, which means that nothing can get through,” Polletta explains, using the…
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