Friday, June 11, 2010

McGuffey Park: Why Fix What's Not Broken?

In this week's Hook, Dave McNair reports (here) on the disappointing situation at McGuffey Park.

I was particularly interested in McNair's article because -- when we explored a number of the local parks last year -- I was least impressed with McGuffey. 

Some of the other parks around here are awesome, in terms of landscaping, facilities, and general "aura."  Our experiences in the parks last summer has led to more frequent visits since then.  But McGuffey was not as pleasant or as welcoming, at least not last summer.

The biggest problem I noticed is the lack of trees: most of the places to sit are exposed to the sun, and in addition to that practical issue there's the aesthetic shortcoming of a park without big trees.

When I was a kid, I spent a lot of time at McGuffey, particularly on Saturdays when we'd come downtown to Dad's office and on Sundays after church.  I can remember really liking the merry-go-round (it was the fastest in town, except for the really old one at Meriwether Lewis) and the swingset there.  I also shot a fair amount of hoops on the basketball net (speaking of hoops: Lakers/Celtics appears to be shaping up as a classic; it's 2-2 now and although I've only watched part of one game I've got the impression that both teams are really playing well).

According to McNair's article, there are two major problems confronting McGuffey Park:
  1. The lack of trees -- evidently a number of the mature trees were cut down as part of the 2007 overhaul of the park.  This leads to the sunshine problem that I noticed and has also contributed to significant erosion and drainage issues.
  2. The park has become a gathering area for local teens (particularly on Friday evenings), and nearby residents are complaining about booze/drugs/sex/general bad behavior.
Regarding #2, the analogy is: McGuffey Park is to 2010 as the Hardee's on 250 was to 1991.

The park's makeover in 2007 cost more than $700,000 (unbelievable), including more than $420,000 in City funds. 

An excerpt from McNair on the funding issue:
Ironically, the McGuffey Friends, City officials, former Parks & Rec. director Mike Svetz, and even the Daily Progress editorial staff argued that the renovation would help solve the crime problem that they claimed plagued the old park, where “needles and condoms” were found in the morning. The landscaping firm, Siteworks, claimed that its design would address such problems by “creating better visibility from the street and by providing more potential for flow-through circulation.”

However, several teens a reporter spoke to said that the many benches, long picnic tables, rock walls, and dimly lit areas make it an ideal place for many different groups of kids to sit and hang out. They also said it’s common knowledge that drugs are available in the park. Plus, it’s conveniently located near the Mall.

I think it would probably have been better to spend $400,000 on finding something for these kids to do,” says Rady. “It wasn’t like this before the park was renovated.”
“I was shocked and awed that the city was giving $400,000 for a facelift of one city park,” wrote another nearby resident, Sarah Peaslee, in a letter to the Hook. “Most of us said, If it’s not broke, why fix it?”
Peaslee wondered what would keep out “vagrants and druggies” and predicted that the “lovely, long, fine wood benches” would actually attract more of them. “Help me understand,” she concluded, “why the city spent so much to fix one unbroken park.”

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