By Tia Will
It is the morning of Saturday July 5th and I have just returned from Farmer’s Market.
Like most every Saturday, I check out not only the food and craft offerings, but wander the whole length of the park to see what informational booths have been set up. This morning held a special treat.
The new Central Park playground has opened and was full of children ranging in ages from those still confined to strollers or their parent’s arms, through toddlers, to a few representatives of the preteen set. With the exception of the occasional tears associated with an unexpected fall to the soft underfoot surface, all were happily engaged with the many different features of the new playground.
It occurred to me as I watched them play that what I was seeing was not only the joy and intrigue of the moment – the swings, the climbing structures, the water features, the musical structures and the not-so-parent-friendly mud pit. I was also seeing the early hands-on education of our future gymnasts, architects, city planners, water experts, musicians and diplomats.
Not one of these residents of our community has the ability to express convincingly to the older and supposedly wiser members of our community just how essential these types of experiences are to their development. As adults, we of course believe that we know better. Just this morning, I wrote that I believed that we needed to prioritize roads above recreational infrastructure. But, that was before I watched the sense of wonder on the face of a young girl when she realized that she could block or increase the amount of flow just by changing the position of a paddle. That was before I watched two boys changing their world by operating the “earth movers”. Now, I am not so sure I was correct.
Roads, sidewalks, greenbelts and their maintenance are of course critical to the well being of our community. As adults, it is easy for us to appreciate this. What I am afraid we may have lost sight of is what is critical to the smaller, less articulate members of our community. If they could make the comparison, I would bet that many of them would prioritize this playground above the presence of potholes on their street. Now as adults, it is our responsibility to make the important decisions for them. It is our responsibility to provide a fiscally sustainable, safe environment with an intact infrastructure for them to inherit from us.
Today highlighted for me that it is also our responsibility to provide a stimulating, thought-provoking environment for them to explore and grow in. While some may see this as secondary, or as “nice to have,” today’s experience showed me that such spaces are critical (not optional) for the well being of our community. Within this space was not only the joy of discovery for the little ones, but also the direct involvement of their parents strengthening family ties and the delight of those seniors amongst us who could relate to this time spent happily with our own children or grandchildren.
Today, in the playground, I was reminded of the importance of that which is intangible. While we certainly need to be cognizant of the amount of money needed to repair our “necessary” infrastructure. Perhaps, over time, we might want to reconsider just what we define as “necessary” and for whom. Although we cannot measure joy, or a sense of peace and well being, or determine which experience it is that draws a young child to a particular interest, or which shared experience it is that bonds a family together, that does not mean that these are not all critical aspects of the well being of our community.
I am not making a case for playgrounds or pools over roads. I am just no longer quite so certain in my conviction that they are not of equal importance.