Universal Design Playground For Cambridge's Danehy Park

Cambridge artist Mitch Ryerson with the lumber he's turning into a Sensory Hilltop at Cambridge's Danehy Park, May 27, 2021. (Cambridge Arts / Greg Cook)
June 2021—Cambridge artist Mitch Ryerson has begun work on the Sensory Hilltop that he is creating for the Universal Design Playground being constructed at Danehy Park in West Cambridge.

The playground is designed for inclusive play where every user and visitor, regardless of ability or disability, can benefit from play elements physically, developmentally, emotionally, and socially. Through unique play equipment, landscaping, layout, and elevations, the entire park will be designed to factor in not only mobile accessibility, but other potential sensory, cognitive, and emotional barriers.

The City of Cambridge project was designed and engineered by Weston Sampson, with advice from a focus group of community members of diverse backgrounds. It's being built by Quirk Construction.

Ryerson’s Sensory Hilltop will be one feature of the three-quarter acre playground being constructed along Field Street between the Briston Arms residential complex and a 68-car parking lot. (See playground plan.) Ryerson’s project includes benches under a shade structure, a marimba, a work table, and a bird bath carved from puddingstone.

Lumber for the structures on the Sensory Hilltop is all black locust, harvested from Glacken Slope at Cambridge’s Fresh Pond Reservation. It’s an extremely rot resistant species that grows locally. Although this species is native to the United States (Appalachian Highlands), it is considered a "native invasive” that has spread rapidly throughout New England, often choking out other native hardwoods and degrading the habitat diversity that many species depend on.

In the fall of 2020, these trees were removed from Fresh Pond as part of a major restoration of the woods. Ryerson was invited to select timber for work he was doing in Cambridge from the many large trees being felled. He selected trees that met the design specifications for the Sensory Hilltop structures. The logs were transported the 1 1/4 miles from Glacken Field to the Universal Design Playground by the contractor, and thus avoided being chipped or sent to a landfill. By using them in a permanent structure, their carbon content will be safely sequestered for years to come and the energy footprint and cost of sourcing wood elsewhere has been greatly reduced.

Ryerson has created wooden play structures and benches for Cambridge’s Kemp Playground on the Common, Alberico Park, Fulmore Park and Fresh Pond Reservation. In the late 1990s, Ryerson transformed a hollow tree trunk on Hurlburt Street into Winnie the Pooh’s house, in a project funded in part by Cambridge Arts. (After two decades, it was removed in 2017 due to rot and to replace lead pipes and make the sidewalk compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act.)

Additional Ryerson creations can be found at the Perkins School of the Blind in Watertown and at the Stoneman Playground and Esplanade Playspace on Boston’s Charles River Esplanade.
  • Cambridge artist Mitch Ryerson with the lumber he's turning into a Sensory Hilltop for the Universal Design Playground at Cambridge's Danehy Park, May 27, 2021. (Cambridge Arts / Greg Cook)
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    Cambridge artist Mitch Ryerson with the lumber he's turning into a Sensory Hilltop for the Universal Design Playground at Cambridge's Danehy Park, May 27, 2021. (Cambridge Arts / Greg Cook)

  • Cambridge artist Mitch Ryerson building a Sensory Hilltop for the Universal Design Playground at Cambridge's Danehy Park, June 3, 2021. (Cambridge Arts / Greg Cook)
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    Cambridge artist Mitch Ryerson building a Sensory Hilltop for the Universal Design Playground at Cambridge's Danehy Park, June 3, 2021. (Cambridge Arts / Greg Cook)

  • Cambridge artist Mitch Ryerson building a Sensory Hilltop for the Universal Design Playground at Cambridge's Danehy Park, June 3, 2021. (Cambridge Arts / Greg Cook)
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    Cambridge artist Mitch Ryerson building a Sensory Hilltop for the Universal Design Playground at Cambridge's Danehy Park, June 3, 2021. (Cambridge Arts / Greg Cook)

  • Cambridge artist Mitch Ryerson's sketch of the Sensory Hilltop that he and his team are creating for the Universal Design Playground at Cambridge's Danehy Park, 2021. (Courtesy Mitch Ryerson))
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    Cambridge artist Mitch Ryerson's sketch of the Sensory Hilltop that he and his team are creating for the Universal Design Playground at Cambridge's Danehy Park, 2021. (Courtesy Mitch Ryerson))

  • Cambridge artist Mitch Ryerson's sketch of the Sensory Hilltop that he and his team are creating for the Universal Design Playground at Cambridge's Danehy Park, 2021. (Courtesy Mitch Ryerson))
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    Cambridge artist Mitch Ryerson's sketch of the Sensory Hilltop that he and his team are creating for the Universal Design Playground at Cambridge's Danehy Park, 2021. (Courtesy Mitch Ryerson))

  • Cambridge artist Mitch Ryerson's model of the Sensory Hilltop that he and his team are creating for the Universal Design Playground at Cambridge's Danehy Park, 2021. (Courtesy Mitch Ryerson))
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    Cambridge artist Mitch Ryerson's model of the Sensory Hilltop that he and his team are creating for the Universal Design Playground at Cambridge's Danehy Park, 2021. (Courtesy Mitch Ryerson))

  • Lumber that Cambridge artist Mitch Ryerson is shaping for the Sensory Hilltop he and his team are creating for the Universal Design Playground at Cambridge's Danehy Park, 2021. (Courtesy Mitch Ryerson))
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    Lumber that Cambridge artist Mitch Ryerson is shaping for the Sensory Hilltop he and his team are creating for the Universal Design Playground at Cambridge's Danehy Park, 2021. (Courtesy Mitch Ryerson))

  • Cambridge artist Mitch Ryerson building a Sensory Hilltop for the Universal Design Playground at Cambridge's Danehy Park, June 3, 2021. (Cambridge Arts / Greg Cook)
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    Cambridge artist Mitch Ryerson building a Sensory Hilltop for the Universal Design Playground at Cambridge's Danehy Park, June 3, 2021. (Cambridge Arts / Greg Cook)

  • Cambridge artist Mitch Ryerson building a Sensory Hilltop for the Universal Design Playground at Cambridge's Danehy Park, June 3, 2021. (Cambridge Arts / Greg Cook)
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    Cambridge artist Mitch Ryerson building a Sensory Hilltop for the Universal Design Playground at Cambridge's Danehy Park, June 3, 2021. (Cambridge Arts / Greg Cook)

  • Cabinet maker Billy Locke (foreground) helps Cambridge artist Mitch Ryerson build a Sensory Hilltop for the Universal Design Playground at Cambridge's Danehy Park, June 3, 2021. (Cambridge Arts / Greg Cook)
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    Cabinet maker Billy Locke (foreground) helps Cambridge artist Mitch Ryerson build a Sensory Hilltop for the Universal Design Playground at Cambridge's Danehy Park, June 3, 2021. (Cambridge Arts / Greg Cook)

  • Cabinet maker Billy Locke (foreground) helps Cambridge artist Mitch Ryerson build a Sensory Hilltop for the Universal Design Playground at Cambridge's Danehy Park, June 3, 2021. (Cambridge Arts / Greg Cook)
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    Cabinet maker Billy Locke (foreground) helps Cambridge artist Mitch Ryerson build a Sensory Hilltop for the Universal Design Playground at Cambridge's Danehy Park, June 3, 2021. (Cambridge Arts / Greg Cook)

  • Preparing lumber for a Sensory Hilltop that Cambridge artist Mitch Ryerson is creating for the Universal Design Playground at Cambridge's Danehy Park, July 15, 2021. (Cambridge Arts / Greg Cook)
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    Preparing lumber for a Sensory Hilltop that Cambridge artist Mitch Ryerson is creating for the Universal Design Playground at Cambridge's Danehy Park, July 15, 2021. (Cambridge Arts / Greg Cook)

  • Cambridge artist Mitch Ryerson with the lumber he's turning into a Sensory Hilltop for the Universal Design Playground at Cambridge's Danehy Park, May 27, 2021. (Cambridge Arts / Greg Cook)
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    Cambridge artist Mitch Ryerson with the lumber he's turning into a Sensory Hilltop for the Universal Design Playground at Cambridge's Danehy Park, May 27, 2021. (Cambridge Arts / Greg Cook)

  • Cabinet maker Billy Locke helps Cambridge artist Mitch Ryerson build a Sensory Hilltop for the Universal Design Playground at Cambridge's Danehy Park, July 15, 2021. (Cambridge Arts / Greg Cook)
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    Cabinet maker Billy Locke helps Cambridge artist Mitch Ryerson build a Sensory Hilltop for the Universal Design Playground at Cambridge's Danehy Park, July 15, 2021. (Cambridge Arts / Greg Cook)

  • Bench that Cambridge artist Mitch Ryerson is creating for the Sensory Hilltop at the Universal Design Playground at Cambridge's Danehy Park, 2021. (Courtesy Mitch Ryerson))
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    Bench that Cambridge artist Mitch Ryerson is creating for the Sensory Hilltop at the Universal Design Playground at Cambridge's Danehy Park, 2021. (Courtesy Mitch Ryerson))

  • Bench that Cambridge artist Mitch Ryerson is creating for the Sensory Hilltop at the Universal Design Playground at Cambridge's Danehy Park, 2021. (Courtesy Mitch Ryerson))
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    Bench that Cambridge artist Mitch Ryerson is creating for the Sensory Hilltop at the Universal Design Playground at Cambridge's Danehy Park, 2021. (Courtesy Mitch Ryerson))

  • Lumber that Cambridge artist Mitch Ryerson is shaping for the Sensory Hilltop he and his team are creating for the Universal Design Playground at Cambridge's Danehy Park, 2021. (Courtesy Mitch Ryerson))
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    Lumber that Cambridge artist Mitch Ryerson is shaping for the Sensory Hilltop he and his team are creating for the Universal Design Playground at Cambridge's Danehy Park, 2021. (Courtesy Mitch Ryerson))