Our Town: Rediscovering a lost love of parks

Dr Tom Ferraro

Right across from my office at 2 Hillside Ave., is the prettiest park imaginable. It has two benches, tall oaks and a gorgeous tulip poplar that stands above the rest. 

The park has plantings and flowers and grass. I visited last Saturday, which was one of those perfect late summer days with a temperature of 72 degrees, blue skies and a slight breeze. I sat there for about an hour during midday. I was the only one there. It was empty. Why? Well let’s explore that question. And before you say that parks are useless things that are not worth discussion, the fact is that parks are part of the fabric of any town. 

We call our town Williston Park. Without parks all you have is concrete. Parks are important elements which beautify a town and give the townsfolk a chance to rest and to meet each other. At least in theory. 

The history of parks go back to medieval times where the aristocracy would have ‘deer parks’, which were large walled in areas to keep the game in and the people out. Parks are now defined as an open space provided for recreational use. They are kept in a natural or semi-natural state and are set aside for human enjoyment. They have rocks, water, flowers and grass and bigger parks like Central Park also have zoos and pools and restaurants.  

As cities grew during the Industrial Revolution land was set aside within cities and towns to preserve a sense of nature. National parks are reserves of land owned by the government and protected from development. Abraham Lincoln was the first to do this with his Yosemite grant back in 1864 to protect the natural beauty of Yosemite Park. Yosemite hosts about four million visitors each year. I visited it this summer and what I will tell you is that it renews your belief in God Almighty. 

Now granted our little park in East Williston cannot compete with Half Dome or El Capitan, but I thought I would see more people lounging around, reading a book or taking a nap. After all this was a perfect Saturday. I think this park is empty for these reasons.

1 – People are just too busy to stop and relax. There is too much driving and shopping and God knows what to stop and waste time relaxing. 

2 – You may recall in a previous column I had Hyeryun Hong, an urban designer, walk with me through Williston Park and she commented that Hillside Avenue is a very busy and noisy thoroughfare that is right up against this park. I do not hear the wind in the willows and I do not hear the birds. Just the sound of cars swooshing by. That is a turn off for sure.

3 – I also think parks need to be like piazzas with concessions and restaurants surrounding it so you can buy a gelato or a cup of cappuccino. 

My favorite Broadway play was “Sunday in the Park with George.” It was a Stephen Sondheim musical about the life of George Seurat, the 19th century French impressionist painter. The name of the play is a takeoff on his most famous work, “A Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte.” 

Parisians would spend time on their Sundays in this park which overlooked the Seine. They would stroll along, sit under shade trees, walk their dogs and relax. 

The obvious point here is that 19th century Parisians did not have TV’s or computers to watch all day. So what they did was get out of there flats, walk down to the park and hang out. 

Alas these times are long gone. We now have TV’s and computers and cars and many, many places to go. No time to stop and no time to rest. So as I sit here all by my lonesome all I hear are the sounds of cars swooshing by. Not even this pretty little park can stop them on their daily errands. And so it is. Yes we have pretty parks but it seems a shame that nobody uses them. Oh yes I did have one interaction in the park. As I was leaving a guy was walking his dog and the dog stared at me for about 30 seconds. It looked like he wanted to say something to me but I can’t say what.

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