By: J.P. Dionne
This past Sunday morning, all of us Placemakers gathered to do a park clean up. It was my first time volunteering in Perugia so it felt good to finally give back to a community that I now call home. However, this warm fuzzy feeling did not last long.
One of the first things my team found in our clean up process was a syringe. My first response wasn’t surprise, it was more a passive; unfeeling. The same response was a elicited when we found the second one. And then the third. And then the fourth. After finding at least 12 different syringes I realized I was still not phased by what I was finding. I knew before coming here that Perugia was no stranger to drug-related issues, and I figured working in a park I would encounter some of these issues head-on. I didn’t realize until afterward just how much of a problem my reaction really was. Everyone else seemed to have the same composed reaction. It was shrugged off, someone casually calling out “I found more needles” became less and less scary. I realized what I was feeling, what we all were feeling, was complacency.
We all left feeling good. We helped clean up the park quite a bit so why shouldn’t we have enjoyed our work. But as we were leaving all my eyes could find were more pieces of litter and caps for syringes. In all this I kept asking myself: Where were the police officers to mitigate this kind of activity? Where were the local politicians who should be working to help people facing addiction?
Our readings this week focused on analyzing the behavior of how people occupy and use space in order to make it a place. The readings discussed empty unused plazas and employing card sorting as methods to develop ideas. And renovations of city space are incredibly important, but this park is not any ordinary city space. It has become a drug den because it lies off the beaten path, found on the fringes of a neighbor not frequented by tourists or well supervised. The eyes on this street seem to belong to those a someone fast asleep. It was wonderful that we engaged directly: spoke with community members about what they want, studied who exactly uses the park, etc. But it left me feeling upset. We are the ones coming in to fix this area, to revitalize it into an attractive green setting. Once this is done more people will come and the drug issues should diminish on their own time. But I felt that in our short time we as Placemakers were becoming numb to the drug crisis. It became normal; something that can easily be ignored. And once something reaches this point in the public eye it becomes even harder to solve.
I recommend that us Placemakers take some time to understand how drugs are effecting the community. Drugs are playing a huge role in day-to-day life, yet they are something we typically ignore in our discussions of barriers to making a place. By doing so we can keep in mind that drugs are a presented challenge. We cannot forget and we cannot become complacent. After all, a park with a view like the one below is absolutely a park worth saving.