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Sunday at the Park

by Jill Walker

November 3,2004

I don’t go to playgrounds anymore. I’ve grown up. And so have my children. But I do recognize the vital role they play in our lives.

A playground is one of the best places for children to cut their teeth on the fundamental skills for surviving in this world. It is a place where elementary rules like sharing, taking turns, trusting, following the leader, and saying sorry are practiced. At the same time, it is a place where children get a chance to be really close to all different kinds of people.

On playgrounds, children get an opportunity to stare at each other for as long as it takes their physical differences to disappear. And then they move on to the more important job of playing, defining each other by new criteria, such as, how much fun someone is, how fast they can climb to the top of the monkey bars (1960’s), or whether they are the type that just sits on the merry-go-round (60’s again) or gets off and pushes once in a while.

Parks are much like playgrounds, with one important distinction – adults are welcomed. And in a world that reminds us all too often of our differences, a stroll through one of Charlotte’s parks can provide a heartwarming reminder of how similar we all really are.

The Sunday before last, Freedom Park literally sparkled. The warmth of the late day sun and the rising chill in the air mingled in perfect harmony. And, for that matter, so did everyone in the park that day. Some of the players on the adult soccer field, an ‘international’ league, communicated with each other exclusively through their feet. Language barriers were rendered irrelevant. As the sun highlighted the profiles of volleyball and soccer players, the shade coaxed the organic scents of autumn from the surrounding woods and creek. Nature was nurturing.

Charlotte’s city parks are a work in progress. As the Center City’s population grows and changes, park space will have to grow and change to accommodate it. Under the authority of the Mecklenburg County Park and Recreation Department, the future of our city’s parks has been enhanced by both the 1999 and 2004 Bond Referendums.

The 1999 Land Banking Bond, among other achievements, enabled the acquisition of approximately ten acres in Third Ward for a future park. Encompassing a three-block area alongside Bank of America Stadium, conceptual plans for this park have been presented by Charlotte architect David Wagner. Since parking was not even considered in this land purchase, an inventive concept is being revisited whereby a public/private venture would build an underground parking deck.

The Green, adjacent to the Ratcliffe condos, and the parking deck below it, were designed by Wagner. This 1.5 acre emerald jewel crowns an out-of-sight income-generating parking solution. Everybody wins when cities encourage this type of creative entrepreneurial cooperation.

The just passed 2004 Park Bond will help develop our greenways, improve area recreational amenities, expand Revolution Park and, hopefully, break ground on the Third Ward Park.

It is essential that we play close attention to how our city’s remaining green space relates to the people, buildings and infrastructure that surrounds it. Pretty soon, Charlotte’s downtown population will be 10,000 and growing. Are we doing all that we can to create a healthy and vibrant urban enclave that will answer the demands of our future city dwellers? Park spending per resident (as of 2002) in Charlotte/Mecklenburg was $52. Compared with the national average of $80 (Seattle is at the very high end at $214!), we could probably do better.

Meanwhile, I will continue to marvel at the bounty and beauty delivered by our city’s most used park, the 110-acre Freedom Park--a park that first entered this world as a bunch of polo fields. Just last week I spotted a blue heron contemplating a dip in the lake.

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