Homeless in the Park (Part 2)

In Part 1 of this post, I described a typical scenario in city parks. A park gets “taken over” by homeless people and other so-called “undesirables,” and then the so-called “good people” or law-abding citizens don’t feel comfortable using the park anymore. And so, in an effort to get rid of the “undesirables,” the city removes park benches, drinking fountains, and other amenities. But this backfires, as a park without benches and other amenities is only attractive to “undesirables” (people who have no better place to go).

I suggested the solution might lie in the opposite direction: Rather than remove amenities, we should be adding amenities. In other words, rather than try to make the park less attractive to “undesirables” (a futile endeavor), we should be trying to make the park more attractive to people who have many choices of where to hang out.

But if you think about it, that’s a tall order! Even average-income people these days seem to have fancier homes than ever. Big fenced yards; souped-up decks; patios and pools. Cable TV, internet. And that’s just their houses! They also have other leisure options, such as going to a movie or theme park, or shopping.

So, what amenities might we add to a park, to make people feel inclined to come out of their comfortable nests and spend time there? The answer is different in different places and times.

In a downtown area with lots of offices, just benches along a sidewalk might be enough. People enjoy eating lunch outdoors as long as the weather isn’t too extreme.

In a residential neighborhood with a significant population of young people, it could be a basketball court, offering the potential of a pick-up game. Of course it all depends on the size of the park.

Imagine, for a moment, that it’s a pocket park in your neighborhood. What would you add to draw people out? Here’s my beginning of a list. Drop me a line with your suggested additions!

– chess and checkers board table with chairs

– mini food-forest, tended by residents

– Little Free Library

– seed bank

– picnic tables, grills (many of which have been removed from parks “to keep out the homeless,” leaving the park utterly devoid of appeal)

– native plants, with informational signage about the local plants, insects, wildlife

– drinking fountain, and water-bowls for dogs

– rainwater pool, pond

– race-track with various levels, chutes, etc., for toy cars and marbles

– solar oven; Rocket oven (twig-fired oven for making pizza, etc)

– giant chalkboard for anyone to write or draw on

– kiosks for local residents to sell arts, crafts; offer informal classes

– skating ramp

– funhouse mirrors

– dog gymnasium (not sure what-all this would be — but, different fun stuff for Fido and Spot, which would also serve as conversational icebreaker for their humans)

– climbing wall; climbing tower; rope ladders etc. (let’s stop carping about “liability”; this is what insurance is for, and city legal departments)

– tree house

– some kind of light-fountain (motion-activated feature that only works at night; people dance and move around it and watch the light change colors and speeds). (Wait, what?? Encourage people to be in a park at night?? Yes! What better way to discourage unsavory activity in parks at night, than to create a draw for wholesome activity, creative play 24-7?)

– Allow artists and buskers to set up in the park and sell/perform (I believe this may be the most promising idea. Artists and performers are relatively less reluctant than the general population to venture outdoors in public spaces, even in “edgy” neighborhoods, because they have the extra motivation of needing to earn a livelihood. In turn, the steady presence of artists and performers could well be the magic key to draw other people to the park)

If a lot of these ideas make you think, “But the City would never allow that!” — you are not alone. But I’m making a list of things that I think would entice people out of their cozy houses. Run-of-the-mill amenities alone will probably not be enough to do that.

(And who knows, maybe at least one or two of the druggies and downtrodden people would be uplifted by the improved atmosphere of the park, and would come there and actually enjoy the amenities without engaging in antisocial behavior.)

Getting local government approval would be the next frontier.

So — what next? What more would you add to this list?