On March 26, 2020, The City of Chicago closed parks to slow the spread of the COVID-19 virus. This closure occurred after warm weather drew large crowds to gather and flout social distancing rules as Chicago recorded 673 additional coronavirus cases. After the City of Chicago closed parks, many adjacent communities did the same. This mass closure of parks, playgrounds and most public spaces created an eerie emptiness.
Seeing playgrounds wrapped in caution tape was common as I photographed various public areas. No matter the size, every playground had caution tape preventing use of swing sets, slides, monkey bars and climbing walls. Several basketball courts had hoops removed or blocked off after pickup games occurred with teenagers wearing masks and gloves on a warm day.
Playgrounds represent a space for free and open play. Seeing them blocked with access restricted cemented the weird effects that the coronavirus pandemic is having on the world. The Idea that to keep others safe, we must block off their space for play is an uncomfortable idea to digest.
Even as playgrounds have been blocked off, they still represent a space for normalcy, as words like “social-distancing,” and “flatten the curve,” enter common lexicon. They can remind us of times when the sounds of kids playing filled the air instead of caution tape flapping in the wind. As I neared the end of April, several playgrounds that I revisited had their caution tape removed. Whether this was due to high winds or wishful children reclaiming their playground is unknown, but the significance was clear. As we weather the coronavirus pandemic by sheltering at home, our playgrounds will be waiting for us to remove the caution tape from the swings, monkey bars and slides to play again.