Tuesday, August 30, 2011

The Urban Life: The City Park

I've recently come to believe that one of the best places to experience cultural equality is at a good city park.

I've started running since I moved to this new city. And by running, I mean power walking mixed with jogging, and trying to increase the jogging. Less than half a mile from my apartment, is a lovely little park, adorned with one a fountain complete with charging horse statues, which is often frequented by a flock of geese. It features a track around the narrow park, parts of which are lined with trees and go up and down small hills.

But it's not the picturesque fountain or tranquil trees that I like best about this park.

It's the people who come there.

A middle-aged woman photographing the geese. Six Muslim women in head-coverings sitting by the fountain with their children. White, black, and Latino men playing a game of soccer together. White chicks and dudes playing volleyball. Hipsters juggling and playing with hula hoops. A Latino family taking pictures at the fountain, later followed by an Indian family doing the same. A couple laying on blankets reading. A woman by herself reading. People running, biking, walking their dogs.

I can out power walk the middle aged women but the fit men always pass me. No matter, everyone has a place at the park. It's not like a gym that you have to pay for, where everyone else seems to lift twice the weight and run twice as fast as me. Even with my currently low level of physical fitness, I don't stand out when I work out in the park.

City parks are free. Paid for by taxes, but it doesn't matter if you paid a lot of taxes or paid none or cheated on your taxes, the park is available to you - so long as you have transportation to get there. You don't need expensive equipment or clothes or an invitation or your name on the VIP list. As long as it's safe, anyone can go there and enjoy it - men, women, children, teenagers, elderly.

Maybe I'm being overly idealistic in my park description. Despite the equality offered by the park, the reminders of inequality are ever present as the park is only yards away from the most upscale shopping center in town, mainly frequented by the affluent white citizens and college kids with credit cards. And the park is always populated with homeless men, so going to the park is not a luxury for everyone. For some people, they go there because they have nowhere else to go.

Despite the realities of poverty and racial inequality that I'm still aware of as I walk/jog in my park, the fact that so many people from different backgrounds come to enjoy it makes this park one of most beautiful places I've been to.

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