Parks are democracy. They evolved out of a tradition of town squares and church greens. In days past, long before they were ‘parks’ they were outdoor marketplaces, shared grazing lands, public commons, or parade grounds. These were community spaces, places for the people. Nearly 300 years ago civic leaders in early American cities recognized the importance of parks spaces for “the Recreation & Delight of the Inhabitants of this City."
Today they serve the same purpose. Sometimes, though, they need a little help.
A non-profit called Public Achievement at the University of Colorado, Boulder matches college students as mentors for at-risk K-12 youth. They identify problems in their community and create a project to overcome those issues. When they reached out to Design Concepts a couple weeks back, we jumped at the chance.
We met with the kids on CU campus on an October afternoon, and had the opportunity to connect with them and discuss their project. To us this is an issue of social justice. But they just want a place to play.
Peace Park at Lafayette Gardens, a small private park in a mobile home neighborhood, serves many low-income families in town. But the park itself is falling apart. The kids we met with had grand visions for what it could be—what it should be. They were excited to imagine the possibilities: volcanos, zip lines, trampolines. But the basketball hoops also need nets. And the only shade shelter was vandalized and had been removed. And the merry-go-round was broken.
Our role in all of this was to help keep them moving. We shared our ideas about what makes a park successful: gathering spaces, access, connectivity, usability, nature, and fun. We put them in touch with entities that might help, including the Colorado Center for Community Development and City of Lafayette Parks and Recreation Department. And we offered to stay involved as the project moves forward. At least, we helped a group of kids work to make their park better. At best, we continued the democratic tradition that led to the ‘park’ in the first place.