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Redesign of LaSalle Park solicits children's input for 2-acre play garden

Five-year-old Tayanna Kemp of Buffalo applied laser-like focus as she attempted to glue together painted, wooden Popsicle sticks into a three-dimensional shape that would hold without collapsing Wednesday.

She was one a few dozen children who attended a public workshop with their parents and siblings at Waterfront Elementary School aimed at soliciting their ideas for a 2 1/2-acre play garden for the proposed Ralph C. Wilson Jr. Centennial Park, inside the LaSalle Olmsted Park near downtown Buffalo.

"There you go, baby," said Tayanna's mother, Nekia, encouraging her daughter. "Keep going. You're going to build the house up. Now you need a little bit more to make it solid."

It was fun but serious business for the youngsters molding clay objects and fashioning construction paper — and their input is also being taken seriously by architects from Michael Van Valkenburgh Associates, which is leading the conceptual redesign of LaSalle Park.

"We're going to engage a lot of children tonight and have them look at things," said Paul Seck, principal architect at Michael Van Valkenburgh Associates.

"I think that's one of the places we get a lot of inspiration from," said Seck, who shared some of the basic designs for the park with about 40 parents and their children.

Seck also briefly recapped work on the project that had already been completed over the summer.

Afterwards, students from the University at Buffalo School of Architecture and Planning assisted the children in creative, hands-on activities aimed at refining ideas for the park's playground.

The space will include a mix of natural and educational features designed to engage children from toddlers to 12 years old.

"I think that's important for all kids, but it's really important for kids who live in cities, who don't really get to go out and play in the woods," Seck said.

Some of the design ideas for the playground will pull from Buffalo's industrial history, he added.

"So you'll see features that have an industrial component to it. There are slides embedded into that, but instead of going up a ladder and going down a slide, you're actually walking into what is like a fake silo. You can go in and start to understand how a silo works, and then you can slide on out of that," said Seck.

Daniel Brown, of North Buffalo, attended the workshop with his wife, Jacklyn, their son, Jasper, 7, and 4-year-old daughter, Jemma.

Brown said he thought it was novel to solicit ideas for the play garden from the children and their parents who will get the most use out of the park.

"I think you need community support for a big project like this," Brown said.

"And kids can sometimes think of fun ideas that maybe other people wouldn't," he added.

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