Iowa City Pedestrian Mall playground reopens with new look

The playground opened to the community on Oct. 25 with new accessibility features and nods to literature in Iowa City.


Vincenzo Mazza

Akirria prepares to go down the slide at the new playground in the Pedestrian Mall in Iowa City on Saturday, Oct. 31, 2022. The new playground opened this month.

Emily Nyberg, News Reporter

The Iowa City Pedestrian Mall playground reopened to the public on Oct. 25 after undergoing renovations for the first time in 20 years.

The playground, first built in 1979, is located at 210 S. Dubuque Street. Director of Iowa City Parks and Recreation Juli Seydell Johnson said Iowa City Parks and Recreation planned the renovation since 2020 and officially closed for construction in August.

Seydell Johnson said the process was prolonged by the economic impacts of COVID-19, with manufacturing and shipping delays.

The playground renovations were estimated to cost around $234,000. It ended up costing over $600,000:

  • The consultants for the project cost $32,300.00.
  • The contractors cost $228,790.52.
  • The equipment for the project cost $345,652.23.
  • The total project cost 606,742.75.

The playground design was developed by a committee of parents, downtown business owners, Iowa City Public Library children’s librarians, parks and recreation staff, and representatives of the Iowa City Downtown District.

During the design process, a survey was sent to Iowa City residents in an attempt to get public opinions on the original design of the playground. Over 550 people responded with ideas for a redesign, Seydell Johnson said.

The playground went through multiple redesigns before being finalized in October.

Seydell Johnson said accessibility was at the forefront of the design process, with the goal for all children to be able to play together.

“Having all paved access around it, having the rubberized surface for easy access throughout, and the larger climber piece is accessible through the transfer area,” she said.

The park also has a wheelchair-accessible merry-go-round in response to requests from the community for additional motion-based activities at ground level to accommodate children using wheelchairs. An additional shade structure will be added to the park in spring 2022.

The playground is not only accessible for children but also for the people assisting them, Seydell Johnson said.

“The stairs that take you to the top of the tower are wider and more versatile. That was done to make transfers easier for people that needed to use it to get up,” she said. “It is a very parent and caregiver friendly piece of equipment to help someone who needs to have a care assistant help them up the structure.”

Seydell Johnson said Iowa City has around 40 parks, and each one is uniquely made to serve the community.

“Each [park] is a little bit of a different mix. This one is bright and brand new, it has more shade than some of our others, once the shade is added, and we think it’s just going to add to the overall atmosphere of downtown,” she said. “I’m just super excited now to have the kids out there playing on it.”

The playground is near the Iowa City Public Library and features elements celebrating Iowa City’s UNESCO City of Literature status.

Iowa City resident Sarah Mangold said her five-year-old daughter, Adrianna, loves the new park. She also said the park’s literature elements are unique and give kids a way to build skills through play.

“I’ve never seen a slide that has, instead of steps going up the side, it’s a book, so you practice your climbing skills,” she said. “It just kind of shakes up the way that you normally do things.”

Mangold said she enjoys the proximity to the library and says it is a great way for her daughter to learn and play.

“We go to the library a lot, so it’s nice to go to the library and come here,” she said.

Iowa City resident Emory Donelson also said his two children, ages two and five, enjoy the literary features of the park.

“They really like climbing on the books or getting up on the slide,” he said. “It gives the kids a reason to want to come downtown and they can go to the library as well.”

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