In our life pre-kids, my husband and I lived in a gritty part of San Francisco (South of Market, adjacent to the Tenderloin) – not typically associated with families and definitely not a place I recall ever seeing babies. Imagine our surprise when – for our anniversary, we went back to our old neighborhood for a night out and found a fantastic, new park! (I later found out that it’s called Victoria Manalo Draves Park and it’s on Sherman, between Folsom & Harrison.)Four years ago, we almost bought a loft condo in that neighborhood but dropped out because the property didn’t have much seismic stability. In retrospect, that was one of our smarter decisions. As much as we loved that neighborhood for the culture and convenience it offered to many of our favorite activities, we missed trees and always felt that we needed to be on the lookout for thieves and muggers.
It took us a while, but eventually we found another place to buy – a small house on a flag lot in a desirable neighborhood of Menlo Park not far from Stanford and the Caltrain station. It was a great house for us as a couple, but when we began preparing to have children, we realized it wasn’t ideal for a young child. On a busy street with a minimal yard and a lot of nearby train noise, it wasn’t quite right. So we started looking again once our daughter was born, deciding our deadline was when our daughter started walking and could get hurt on our street. During that first year of her life, we took her to Burgess Park a few blocks away nearly every day.
Some wonderful things happened because we had to walk to that park. Our daughter met other babies and enjoyed watching ducks in the pond by City Hall, we met our neighbors, we got good exercise walking, and we were able to enjoy the fresh air while not feeling the pull of all of the things that we needed to do at home. The park became our oasis, our escape, and a social outlet. Finally we found the right new home for us and we moved to our new neighborhood where we had a great back yard. As much as our new neighborhood was ideal, we still missed Burgess Park.
Lucky for us, we still can go to back any time with either a short drive or a long walk, and near our new house are two good parks that our daughter enjoys a few times a week. She calls the swings “wee” because of the sound people make when swinging. She loves to swing. She also loves the slides. We see some of the same families there and our daughter has learned the names of other kids near her age.
Now that our daughter is getting older, she’s playing in our yard more. We bought a small swing set and an inflatable pool for water play during the summer, but she still loves the parks. I recall being pregnant and anxiously anticipating taking walks to the park with my daughter in her stroller, but I had no idea how much a regular part of our lives it would become.
Now when we visit other neighborhoods where we’ve lived or where people we have park radar – we see all of the wonderful new parks budding in places like San Francisco. I didn’t go to parks much as a child because we lived on a lot of land, but I always enjoyed the opportunities I did have to go and spend time at the park. Now I’ve concluded that parks are an essential component of strong communities and it makes me happy to see them blossoming in all kinds of neighborhoods.