Monday, August 24, 2009

Taking Back the Park

There is a park near my house that was a community project. For various reasons (subject of a future blog post) the City of Berkeley "gave" our neighborhood a plot of land to do with as we pleased. After many meetings and lots of work we created a wonderful sanctuary with a big grassy area surrounded by native fruit trees, plants and flowers. There is a tire swing and sandbox and a "mountain" to climb for the children. My kids and I go there a lot.

Last week Maia and I decided to take a walk to the "little park" (as Maia calls it) with Moses (the dog) and some toys for the sandbox. As we approached I saw three adults on the swing - drinking from paper bags and groping each other lewdly. Maia asked me, "Mama, what are they doing?" Fuming, shooting cold stares at the people, I told her that I didn't know. We spent a moment sitting on a bench across the lawn until Maia said she wanted to use the swing.

So we walked across the grass and I began to take back the park:

"Excuse me," I said, "my daughter would like to use the swing."
"Oh! sure, of course. Go ahead!" they said.
And they moved aside and Maia got up on the swing and I began to push her. The three adults (two men and a woman) moved a few yards away - near the sandbox - and lit up some cigarettes.
"I'm sorry," I said, "there is no smoking in the park" while pointing out the "no smoking" signs hung every 10 feet along the perimeter of the park. "There are ash trays just outside both gates if you want to smoke," said I.
"What are you trying to say?" said the woman.
"I'm just pointing out the signs." I said.
"You must be new to this neighborhood, right?" aggressive, accusations.
Me, "No, I've lived here for about 10 years now."
"WELL - I've been here for 48 years!"
"Wow, 48 years? You look awesome" I said.
She didn't know what to make of it. She cocked her head, like a dog. Her boyfriend, said, "Hey you guys, lets get out of here. We gotta go someplace anyway."
So they gathered up their stuff - including a bouquet of flowers. "Those are pretty," I said. "Yea - I know how to pick 'em." said the guy. "I guess so." My eyes glaring.

And they left.

I wonder if I'd have been so bold if I didn't have Moses with me - he looks scary. Big, dark and wolf-like. Or the protection of Maia - using a child as a shield - figuring that any decent person wouldn't hurt a mother in front of her kid.

I could have been wrong. It might have been bad.
As it is, I feel like I won.

Since then I've made the walk to the park an evening ritual. We use it the way it was intended. I'm going to start inviting the neighborhood families to join us. This park is important to me. I intend to keep it.

[Also posted on InBerkeley.]


  1. Bravo...the right to party NEVER supercedes the right for Children to be FREE to run in a park...

  2. I had an incident in that same park while playing with - two people getting loud, smoking and drinking while kids are playing in the park - the police had to come as one of the drunks was screaming about his duty in vietnam and how he could kick my ass. Nice peopl in berkeley...sometimes


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