City life is hard. It's hard on the body, mind and soul. You can become…
How a new city park can create common ground
Two weeks ago, my hometown debuted a new park. The new space on the riverfront opened amid much fanfare, and I was fairly itching to check it out.
With the promise of interesting play awaiting us, my little crew packed into our car one evening and made the trek from suburbia to downtown. It didn’t disappoint. A beautiful design, integrated into the landscape, made good use of the space. A variety of things to do, see and experience caught and kept the interest. A playground was filled with unique activities. My 2-year-old son especially liked dancing and splashing in the kid-friendly canal, and I enjoyed the canopy tree walk that offered a beautiful view of the downtown skyline.
But perhaps what made the biggest impression was the cross-section of people who had come, as we had, to recreate in our city’s newest landmark.
People from all walks of life sat on benches and mingled on walkways. People from all neighborhoods strolled across the historic bridge and bounced around the playground. Kids were being kids, and grownups were being kids, and nary a screen was in sight. It was alive with life and activity. And it was delightfully refreshing.
I found myself reflecting on these observations. What was so special about this place? Why was I moved by it?
It could be that, in their own small ways, parks allow for us to be neighbors again. They level the playing field. Centrally located, accessible and free of charge, they do not discriminate. You don’t have to be rich, young, old, employed, physically fit, a certain color or embodying a certain creed to enjoy a park. You just have to be human. And it’s our humanity that can bring us together.
This is appealing in today’s world. Too often we can get stuck in our own bubbles. Wittingly or not, we become surrounded by those who look like we do, pray like we do, think like we do. And such lack of diversification can only help create more barriers between ourselves and those who are different from us. When we experience so little of “the other,” that lack of experience can all too quickly and unwittingly morph into mistrust. We fear what we do not know. And fear is the undercurrent of so many of our societal problems.
OK, you might be thinking, get over it, already. It’s just a park. But it also seems like a lesson. And an opportunity. There are so few chances in our lives today to build community, so few moments to interact with people who are different from ourselves. A park is one of those opportunities. A place for smiles. A place for a chat. A place to help break down barriers. A place where we can find common ground.
That’s the subtle gift behind the overt beauty of our lovely new park.
Gretchen R. Crowe is editorial director for periodicals at Our Sunday Visitor.