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Remember: What is the Purpose of a City Park? Part 5: Salvation

Friday, October 9, 2009

What is the Purpose of a City Park? Part 5: Salvation

What is the concluding point to the purpose of a City Park? I have highlighted reflection, refuge, recreation and community so far but I feel as if I have left something out. Walking down the concrete sidewalks next to the macadam surface of streets, looking at the buildings made of brick and steel, and stopping under the occasional tree; the most important point of a City Park becomes glaringly obvious.

View Larger Map
In the map above is the city of Allentown. You can see some parks, as well as the agricultural fields to the northwest and the Lehigh River curling its way on towards Bethlehem. The thing about that map is, that the most striking and obvious feature is the static snow of urban development. The parks seem like little green aberrations in what is otherwise a gray conglomeration of civilization.

Inside this gray conglomeration, we exist. We go to work. We run errands. We drive our cars. We live our lives. Thing is, should we? Was Jefferson right so many years ago when he suggested that open land free of development was the key to preserving freedom? Was Emerson right when he said: “here I feel that nothing can befall me in life, -- no disgrace, no calamity, (leaving me my eyes,) which nature cannot repair.”?

A human being loses itself in the madness of urban development. We are not meant to live in the manner that we currently do. Our food is full of chemicals and preservatives. Our air, the most precious of our resources is polluted, and getting dirtier. In every aspect of modern life, human beings are moving themselves away from their origin as mammals and entwining themselves in the technological contraptions of new civilization. We are losing what we have left of nature.

Here, is the greatest and most important reason for a City Park. Those little green aberrations in that map are the salvation of urban life. Without question, I believe that the gray and the green in the map should be switched. It is the city that is out of place not the park. It is the city that is ultimately the cause of the loss of nature. It is our fault, as the dominant species in the overall ecosystem of Earth that nature is being lost to our “progress”.

Still, we have our parks. Here in Allentown, we are blessed to have the great amount of parks we do. In these places the truest identity of humankind is possible to experience, that is, once a human walks away from the urban structure and resubmits to the overwhelming power and purpose of nature. In our parks we return ourselves to the freedom of life. In our parks, we can make a brief return to nature, or better yet, a brief return to way things should be.

What of the parks themselves?

It should be, and it currently is not, our greatest duty as citizens to preserve, maintain and protect these little tracts of nature. Our creeks and rivers must be cleaned and made as unaffected by city life as we can make them. The plants and trees in our parks must be defended from invasive species, not only Japanese Knotweed, but the modern human being. Our parks should be our priority.

Are they? Are we doing everything that we can do to make sure these sacred spots are healthy, vibrant, and as wild and beautiful as they can be? Sadly, the answer is no. Our city minds and lives have allowed for them to suffer the indignity of mowed lawns, trimmed trees and bushes, and the death of our watersheds. We have allowed the intricate ecosystems in our parks to fall apart and we have done so because we expect the parks to be maintained in such a fashion that they are more like zoos of nature than places were nature can be wild.

Still, we have them. We need them. Tomorrow at Cedar Beach Parkway, I will be present for the planting of a large riparian buffer along Cedar Creek. This kind of a project is a necessity for all of our parks moving forward. The little green tracts in that Google map are an available salvation for the stress and sickness inherent in a life removed from nature. We need to return them closer to where they should be. I reiterate here, that we should all get out into the parks as often as possible. We need to.

“Everybody needs beauty as well as bread, places to play in and pray in, where Nature may heal and cheer and give strength to body and soul alike.” –John Muir

See Also:
What is the Purpose of a City Park? Part 1
Part 2: Refuge
Part 3: Community
Part 4: Recreation



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