The Highland Park Adventure Playground

In the late 1960's, the administration of President Lyndon Johnson carried out a series of urban renewal projects under the "Model Cities" program. Cities including Detroit and Highland Park received federal funding to make improvements to the urban fabric and address issues of inequality and poverty.

One of the last remaining examples of the program is The Highland Park Adventure Playground, a curious cement park on the border of Highland Park and Detroit. Though mostly overgrown and vandalized, the park still retains most of its original elements.

Plans for the park were announced in November of 1969. It was designed by New York Architect Richard Dattner, who had been building modernist parks and playgrounds that were designed to inspire curiosity in children. As noted in a 1978 feature in the Detroit Free Press, "...he has designed basins with fountains in which kids can wet their feet, stairstep systems for Stepball games, and abstract sculptural forms which are to stimulate rather than channel imaginations. But he insists that even good playgrounds are often abandoned if nobody is there to supervise and stimulate play." The last sentence turned out to be fairly prophetic.

Dattners' park received mixed reviews from residents. In the same Free Press article, one resident said "He designed it, I think, for upper-income folks. It's the kind of playground where the maid comes down with the kid. And Highland Park is, shall I call it, 'Ghetto Heights?'" Problems with the playground, he said, include 'too much concrete and lots of wasted space.'"

Though his parks have enjoyed renewed interest in places like New York City, The Highland Park Adventure Playground sees little traffic these days. The neighborhood around the park has dwindled, as houses are vacated and eventually torn down. Occasional maintenance keeps the grass from getting too high, but for now the park remains hidden and mostly unused.