The Power of Parks
Travis Rickford is the Kansas State Director for the Community Engagement Initiative at the Center for Global Policy Solutions. Travis has over eight years of experience working in community public health.
If you were to take a drive through the city of Hutchinson, Kansas, your route may take you down the historic main street with its quaint shops and local eateries. Eventually, you would stop at Avenue A, a major thoroughfare that runs the length of South Hutchinson. Take a right on Avenue A and you’ll venture into the newly named SW Bricktown neighborhood. You would travel through the underpass where a new mural will be painted and immediately see the elementary school on your left. Farther into the neighborhood, you’ll walk by the stately Courthouse on First Avenue. As you pass it, glance to your left and notice a small patch of grass with a sprinkling of trees and a small creek—Ashmeade Park. You might think, “Well, just another park.” Except Ashmeade Park is a case study in how the need for a park created a renewed sense of power for SW Bricktown residents and mobilized them around a common goal.
As we celebrate the Parks and Recreation Month in July, many of us take for granted parks and the role they play in improving our overall health—both in and outside of the park perimeters. The National Park and Recreation Association estimates that 50 percent of all vigorous exercise in America takes place in a park. Parks can also boost positive attitudes toward cultural diversity and reduce feelings of isolation. For residents like those that live in SW Bricktown, the absence of a good park can have a negative impact on the overall health of the community. A park offers not only opportunities for exercise, but a space for residents to engage with one another. SW Bricktown Neighborhood residents recognized the need for an improved park and took impressive steps to turn that idea into a reality.
The neighborhood, one of the first in Hutchinson, is proud of its history. As a largely Hispanic neighborhood, it takes pride in the heritage of families that have lived there for generations. Over the last couple of years, residents came to together to see how they could address socioeconomic factors that impacted their health. During a two-day long initial meeting and subsequent community meetings, residents talked about the park at length. They discussed the possibilities of expanding it for sports activities, adding a space for community gatherings and other park amenities. They worked with city officials to bring in park planners and eventually took those ideas to create two park concept drawings to be considered by residents during a community gathering. The local government, eager to help, acquired additional land to expand the overall size of the park for a nature play area and considerable open green space. To make the name of the park more reflective of their neighborhood, residents went a step further, organized a successful petition drive, and were able to change the name of the park from Ashmeade Park to SW Bricktown Park.
While planning for the park continued, other noticeable changes started to happen. Residents, who had watched these events unfold, found themselves thanking city council members at public meetings, meeting with policymakers personally, and even inviting them to participate at other community gatherings. In a sense, planning for a park created an atmosphere that allowed residents and policymakers to work together in a meaningful way to improve the physical and civic health of the neighborhood. Together, they worked to create a final concept and are considering ways to fund the changes.
We’d like the story of planning in SW Bricktown to serve as a call to action. If your neighborhood has limited or no access to a park, consider ways you can work with residents and local government to turn that dream into a reality. Consider putting together a walk audit. Tour your neighborhood on foot with other residents and identify areas for a potential park. Contact your local health department, recreation commission, and other community stakeholders to discuss your ideas. Join your neighborhood association and find other activities that involve working with and getting to know your neighbors.
(photo credit: Vireo)
Finally, if you find yourself in Hutchinson over the next few years, perhaps on a visit to the Cosmosphere or salt mines, take some time drive or bike past Ashmeade – now SW Bricktown Park. Instead of a small patch of under-utilized green space, you may see a new playground, picnic shelter, or nature play area. They are a testament to the power of community engagement and the role access to parks plays in creating a thriving, healthy neighborhood.