How Accessible Are Our City Parks? by Jess Lewis

Open spaces are an essential part of November Project and we value them for the chance they give us as places for our community to form, workout and thrive. We are lucky enough to have these spaces because of the largesse of the cities we live in. It is part of the NP identity that we exist in places that are accessible to everyone to participate in our community. In Baltimore we try to maximize these open spaces by moving to different workout locations for the last friday of every month. The point is to try to discover new spaces to “opt outside” and hopefully expose people in those neighborhoods to our brand of fun. City parks are an essential part of our NP experience and our appreciation of them cannot be overemphasized.

One of our members, Jess Lewis,  recently got a chance to be part of the group that explored how these parks work in the city and what’s needed to make it accessible to everyone. This is what she was she discovered:

NP 10/17/18

Let me start off by addressing the elephant in the room, yes it was cold today. The time to start setting out your clothes the night before NP has come…

Two weekends ago I was given the opportunity to participate in a focus group for Baltimore City Rec & Parks  (why isn’t it parks & rec… I know right…). At 10 am on a beautiful Saturday I sat in one of the public recreation centers at Druid Hill Park with about 10 other participants, all from different areas of the city. I represented South Baltimore, naming my favorite parks as Riverside, Latrobe, Federal Hill and, of course, Rash Field.

We discussed the results of a survey we had all previously participated in, which was sent to help find out what people are using the parks for, what improvements the parks need, what other types of community engagements residents would like, and how we can reasonably implement these.

As our conversations shifted from neighborhood differences to event suggestions and even to government involvement, I couldn’t help but think of the community we’ve all helped create at November Project, which happens to take place at these very parks.

The focus group lasted 2.5 hours (a half hour longer than the intended time) and was full of passionate people who wanted to make our city better. While I consider myself someone who often takes the lead and talks a lot (I’ll pretend you all stuck up for me here…), I found myself humbly listening as residents wished that their parks had working water fountains, hoops in the basketball courts, proper trash cans,  and generally facilitated a better space for their community. People felt that if residents had a nice, safe, clean space to gather, maybe they would.

The Baltimore that I know was clearly not the same Baltimore that other folks in this focus group experienced.

While I considered a $2 entry fee for the Riverside pool menial, others expressed that people in their communities were excluded from these types of amenities. We all agreed that the parks should be for everyone, not just those who could afford it. It seemed that parks in “nicer” neighborhoods were given preferential treatment. One idea we discussed was a way to “pay it forward,” where a person could pay double upon entry in order to donate money for a future use of the pool, or other amenity, for someone else if they couldn’t afford it.

Almost everyone agreed that they loved the parks, but we wondered: how can we show other people how amazing they are? How can we create a sense of community? What is so special about living in Baltimore City?

We didn’t get to answer every question, but here were some of my key takeaways:

  1. Anyone can be an advocate. Get out there! If you love the parks, tell your friends and your neighbors. We can’t always rely on the parks themselves to get the word out about events in the parks, but we can work together to spread the news.
  2. Clean it yourself. Seeing a lot of trash in your park? Instead of waiting for a park ranger, government crew, or volunteer group to come by, just pick it up! Not happy with your basketball court? Paint and repair it, like these guys. Crowdsource, gather, clean, and repair. The parks belong to everyone so let’s show them some love! Events like our very own Trash Dash on November 4th can help us all.
  3. Go somewhere new! This was one of the biggest things we talked about. People simply don’t want to leave their neighborhoods that often, but if you get the chance, you might find an entirely new park you love. For example, did you know there’s a timed 5k in Leakin Park EVERY Saturday?

Overall, the experience was humbling, invigorating, and surprising. To see all these people hyped on something as simple as city parks clearly showed the passion that Baltimore City residents have for their home. So next time you are running, cheering, taking your dog, watching floats, or doing 100-10 in a local park, just remember that if you respect the parks, they will always be here for you!  

-Jess Lewis, Park Enthusiast and Soft Pretzel Connoisseur

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