Perfect Parks

Throughout this semester, I’ve been thinking about an article I read in my human geography class last year called Between places and flows: towards a new agenda for neighbourhood research in an age of mobility (Van Kempfen & Wissink) that explores the decreasing importance of physical neighborhoods, and suggests instead that communities are more significantly shaped by the family, schools, work places, and digital “neighborhoods” such as social media. My experience growing up in Roanoke, VA somewhat supports this new understanding of neighborhood. While we are friendly with some of our neighbors, overall, we do not have a very walkable street (steep and no sidewalks.  In the past fifteen years, we’ve gotten maybe one trick-or-treater. We usually have to drive to social events.

Being involved in Sant’Angelo, I was surprised by how traditional the neighborhood was (eyes on the street Jane-Jacobs Style) and how there was an active association (maybe we have these at home, too?). Even though the trend is to move away from a less geographically-grounded neighborhood, I think there is much value in trying to my not just your home, but your street, a welcoming community place. I’m also remembering that evidence of traditional neighborhoods do still exist in the US. Take 

Take for example my grandparent’s home in Roanoke just ten minutes away and Nana’s house in Farmingdale NY. Both live in quiet, flat neighborhoods with a wide range of ages. At my grandparent’s house in Roanoke, we always play football in the street after Thanksgiving dinner. It’s much more fun than being in the yard. By playing in the street, the street that connects the different houses becomes a place rather than just a connecting piece of asphalt.

In Farmingdale, NY, my nana’s street is also a safe place. There are sidewalks and evidence of people watchers. Last year when my family was visiting, we had to call the fire department because the oven was releasing a suspicious odor (oil from frying two massive batches of struffeli turned out to be the culprit). The best part was watching her neighbor run outside to witness the scene. His expression of disbelieving excitement made you think it was Christmas! (I guess technically it was the Christmas season.) Furthermore, Nana’s house has a park around the corner that my dad used to hang out in when he was a kid. My siblings and I loved the unconventional equipment: a wooden train, big blue slide, comfortable baby swings. I admit we were sad when they renovated the park to include brand-new equipment. It’s safe and meets the safety standards, but do kids still have as much fun, as much room for imagination on standardized equipment? These updates certainly show place-making efforts in which the neighborhood actively maintains the park and creates a safe place for children to play. But I wonder what role (if any) kids had in designing the new equipment? It will be interesting to discuss in class, but on first impression the romantic or proactive approach resonate most with me. Listening to the needs and desires of children will help us create a space that truly promotes a sustainable future.  

Since building the playground seems like a possible first step for Parco Sant’Angelo, let’s make sure to get input from kids. What would their dream playground look like? How can we make that a reality? Are there other playgrounds in Perugia that model an ideal/non-ideal play space?

My favorite park by Nana’s house. This image shows some of the old equipment. (Credit: google maps)
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