Passing Time in Urban Parks

The picture above is an aerial view of Volkspark Friedrichshain in Berlin, Germany. I once stumbled upon this place while wandering the city. I remember being delighted by all the winding trails and secret meadows I found there. There were placid little duck ponds hidden away from the main paths, trysting places for the teenagers to fool around in, occasional statues and fountains. I went on a Sunday, so the park was teaming with people. Berliners seem to use the park for afternoon jogs and walking their dogs. Sometimes you’d see a pairs kicking a soccer ball around or playing Frisbee. The most common activity was just laying in the sun, not for the sake of getting a tan—the Northern European sun is too feeble for that and almost everyone was clothed anyway—but just to be outside, among people. I recall thinking that this park seemed very foreign to me, and that they way people were using the space felt very novel. It is unusual to find parks like Friedrichshain in the United States, with manicured landscapes made to resemble an idealized version of nature. If Americans wish to visit the wild, we get into our cars and drive there. Cities I the United States do tend to have little parks where people can have cook outs on the weekends and walk their dogs on grass to get them to shit. These parks are pretty often under maintained and they aren’t particularly well planned either. They always seem to open and exposed, never enough trees and usually no bushes or interesting flora. I’ve always found that American parks are designed to accommodate a specific set of prescribed activities. They tend not to be places to lay around an loiter. When one goes to a park in the United States, it is usually to play sports, or ride around in a paddleboat, or do something that you wouldn’t otherwise be able to do in your own backyard.

 

This next picture is of the north section of Humboldt Park on Chicago’s west side. With its lagoon and spacious grounds, it could be a very beautiful and bucolic place in the middle of a dense, big city neighborhood. Its designers could have planted dense forests, and they could have carved labyrinthine paths into them like with Friedrichshain. Of course, because of the suspicion everyone in Chicago has for one another and the general anxiety about petty crime, the park is left exposed and only lightly wooded so that it can be easily surveilled. For some reason, all of the interesting spots around the lagoon have been plowed over and made into ball fields. I count seven baseball diamonds and five more diamonds for softball. There is also some sort of ballpark on the left for competitive league play. Continuing to add to the inventory, there are four different playgrounds, four tennis courts, a soccer field, a boathouse, two sand volleyball courts, and the stocking shaped pit in the upper left I believe is an ice skating rink. This is not a place where people go to simply sit and relax. People convene here to play sports. They are keeping busy attending to the performance of an activities. The only people I’ve ever seen lying down in Humboldt Park are the homeless men who live there.

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