Palo Alto’s Magic Bridge: An Inclusive Playground

On April 18, 2015, the Magical Bridge Foundation opened the nation’s first “town square for the 21st century,” an innovative and all-inclusive playground in Palo Alto’s Mitchell Park called the Magical Bridge Playground.

As stated on their website, Magical Bridge Playgrounds are “Universally Designed to be a socially inclusive playground for everyone, Magical Bridge finally includes the 1-in-4 of us living with physical and cognitive disabilities, autism, visual and hearing impairments, the medically fragile, and our aging population. The first of its kind, Magical Bridge clearly illustrates how today’s typical park designs overlook so many.”

The idea for a play space designed for all ages and abilities was the brainchild of Olenka Villarreal. After the birth of her second daughter, Olenka realized that for children and families with different needs, a trip to the playground could be a challenging and isolating ordeal. For seven years, Olenka and a team worked diligently to raise funds to build an outdoor play space that would welcome visitors of every age and ability.

The result was Palo Alto’s Magical Bridge Playground, which attracts overs 25,000 visitors each month who come to the free play area to experience the joy of being outdoors, the exhilaration of physical activity, and to connect with others.

In 2016, Olenka and Jill Asher formed the not-for-profit Magical Bridge Foundation, which has ignited an awareness that “today’s parks leave far too many behind.” Santa Clara County has allocated $10 million to create more playgrounds like the flagship play space in Palo Alto.

“Our dream is that we no longer have to use the words, ‘inclusive’ or ‘accessible’ when building something as simple as a playground.” – Olenka Villarreal, Founder, Magical Bridge Foundation

Utilizing Universal Design principles, Palo Alto’s Magical Bridge Playground includes:

  • Auditory features
  • Flat, soft surfaces
  • Retreat spaces
  • An array of play zones in an organized layout
  • Community teen house and stage
  • Ramp leading into playground
  • Secure fencing and enclosures
  • Design for all ages and abilities

The Magical Bridge Playground is located near the library and Ada’s Café. Open daily from sunrise to sunset, the park is free and open to all, including the four large tables for picnics and parties, all of which are free to reserve.

Because of the success of Palo Alto’s Magical Bridge Playground, the foundation is working to open its second such outdoor play space in Mountain View’s Rengsdorff Park in 2020. Other play spaces are slated for Sunnyvale, Morgan Hill, and Redwood City. The nonprofit is also extending their reach outside of Silicon Valley and the Bay Area to provide “the joy of play, kindness, and new friendships to as many families as possible.”

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