The Tarpon Springs Housing Authority needs to provide a play area for children who live in the Mango Circle public housing complex, even though the complex may be demolished within a few years. Images of small children playing in the street should be all it takes to persuade the authority's officials to act, and quickly.
However, the Housing Authority doesn't bear sole responsibility for solving this problem. The city government, local nonprofits and Mango Circle parents have a role to play, too.
The first and most important task: Get the kids out of the streets. This is the parents' job. It is commonplace to see children as young as preschoolers playing in the street that winds through Mango Circle. The children are sometimes unsupervised and are too young to be expected to always watch for vehicles. It is a tragedy waiting to happen and parents should not allow it.
Mango Circle, a 37-year-old, 60-unit complex occupied primarily by families, used to have a playground. The playground was poorly maintained and dangerous for children because of lead paint and broken glass. After this newspaper called attention to conditions there last year and an inspection by an outside expert confirmed the dangers, the Housing Authority tore down the playground and did not replace it.
Some provision should have been made then for a temporary play area, but the housing agency's plan was to replace the entire complex with a new apartment community that would have safe, attractive play areas. The authority and a private development firm in Miami won approval from the city for that new community.
However, the Housing Authority was unable to obtain a federal tax credit needed to proceed with the construction and cannot even reapply until December. Clearly, Mango Circle is going to be around awhile.
The complex has no play equipment, and the families living in Mango Circle cannot easily afford such equipment for their children. Neither can they afford to take their children to some of the recreation facilities frequented by families of means.
The grounds of Mango Circle are not conducive to play — they are barren, crisscrossed with tree roots and littered with glass. It is no wonder that the street, with its smooth, wide stretch of asphalt, is so appealing to youngsters.
Housing Authority members have been discussing what to do about a play area. With money tight, some had been reluctant to invest in a playground, especially when the plan was to raze the complex soon and rebuild. But now, with no reliable estimate of when construction could begin, authority members should not delay. The children of Mango Circle need a safe playground, which need not be elaborate.
Meanwhile, the city's recreation staff and local nonprofits such as the Citizens Alliance for Progress should step up to provide recreation activities in the community, perhaps offer transportation to local parks, and advise parents on ways to help their children get the outdoor exercise they need without playing in the streets.