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Communities are diverse. Playgrounds should be, too. Active, independent play is critical to the health, well-being, and social opportunities of all kids. However, the benefits of play are not limited solely to children, but reach across communities throughout one’s lifespan. Although children are the primary user group of playgrounds, truly inclusive environments are designed with a broader multigenerational approach in mind, providing all people a place to play and recreate with friends and family.

Fundamentally, inclusively-designed environments are a statement about a community’s social values and every individual’s right to play. The goal of a redesigned Murphy-Oakley Park playground is to innovate equitable recreation experiences and provide quality outdoor play for people of all abilities that encourage both physical and social inclusion.

The City of Asheville held listening sessions in early 2023 with focus groups to prioritize investments in improving the park’s play space. Following an open survey, playground design professionals aligned design considerations and intentionally selected inclusive elements that move beyond the minimum accessibility standards to create a truly meaningful play destination that values all forms of inherent differences Ashevillians possess as individuals.



Murphy-Oakley Community Center opened in the mid-1960s with a design similar to other centers opened during the decade in east, north, and west areas of Asheville. All housed fire stations, library branches, and multipurpose recreation rooms with separate entrances. About 10 years later, the Murphy-Oakley community had grown in size so the ballfield and playground at Oakley Elementary School was no longer adequate for the neighborhood’s needs. Leveraging federal community development funds, Asheville Parks & Recreation (APR) worked with residents to open a park in the late-1970s adjacent to the community center with a ballfield, tennis courts, playground, basketball court, picnic shelter, off-street parking, restrooms, and concession stand.

The layout of the park has largely remained unchanged. Recent investments include resurfacing of tennis/pickleball and basketball courts, lighting and parking improvements, and installation of new water fountains. The playground was last updated in 1996 and has been ranked as the highest need for replacement by APR’s Certified Playground Safety Inspector. Due to the age of the play structures, replacement parts are not readily available and require custom fabrication.

In 2016, Asheville voters approved a bond referendum to address a wide range of parks and recreation projects throughout the city including playground renovations. APR’s Therapeutic Recreation (TR) program for individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities is based out of Murphy-Oakley Community Center, so Murphy-Oakley Park’s updated playground will intentionally address needs of this community through an innovative, inclusively-designed environment supporting physical, social-emotional, sensory, cognitive, and communication development.


Community Engagement


  • February 7: Drop-in for Therapeutic Recreation participants and their families
  • February 9: Drop-in for Oakley neighborhood residents and friends at Murphy-Oakley Community Center from 6-7 p.m.
  • March: Community survey and display at Oakley/South Asheville Library


Current Project Timeline


  • Asheville voters approve parks and recreation bond referendum


  •  October-December: Playground pre-study and planning


  • February-March: Focus groups and community survey
  • March-May: Playground design
  • Summer-Fall: Construction


Supporting Documents


Contact Information

Lori Long, Asheville Parks & Recreation, 828-232-4529

Rebecca Cipriano, Capital Projects, 828-424-5596




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