There have been some stories recently in the local newspaper about residents complaining that a skateboard park has been causing some problems for neighbours. The complaint is that young kids have been congregating in the evening and behaving badly, which has been causing some annoyance for people who live nearby. The stories have not only been reported in the newspaper, but have also been communicated to town council to such a degree that I recently received a letter in the mail indicating that town council was looking into the issue and assessing a number of alternative solutions. In the interests of being transparent, let me tell you that I live pretty close to the park in question. So I think that I have something constructive and personal to add to this debate.
Since I do live nearby, I am familiar with the park. Not only is there a skateboard park on the property, but there is also a baseball diamond and a soccer field. And soon, there will also be a new playground, too. I find it interesting that there have not been any complaints from neighbours about the evening sporting activities that take place there. A couple nights ago, I drove by the park on my way home at about 10 at night. At that time, there was a baseball game and a soccer game going on. There were large flood lights lighting up the area and voices could be heard for several blocks. In fact, if I go out on my front porch at night, I can see the lights and hear all the action clearly. Despite the noise, traffic and disruption that these activities cause, I have never heard a negative comment in the news, or from neighbours about it. If anything, what I hear is that people are happy that we have such close access to these facilities.
So, then, I wonder, what is the issue? Why are people complaining about some kids hanging out in the evenings in the same area? Sure, I accept that teenagers can be loud and some of them may even engage in some activities that we don’t approve of as parents (or neighbours). But let me ask this question. If you had a teenage son or daughter, would you like them to be hanging out somewhere around the corner in the park (where you know they are) or someplace else that you don’t know about? If they are going to ride their skateboards, wouldn’t you rather they do it in a designated, safe park instead of on the street?
Sure, kids can be loud. Sure they can be annoying. But, so were we when we were young. When I was a kid, my parents always knew where they could find me if it was necessary. I was either at a friend’s house or down the street at the park. I like to think that when my own children get a little older that they will have the freedom, and my trust, to go off and do things. And if I need to find them I know there is a place to find them.
So, let’s go back to the original point. Why is it that neighbours find it necessary to complain to the authorities instead of finding constructive ways to deal with the situation? Shouldn’t we be supportive our kids, our neighbours kids and their friends. Instead of asking the kids to find someplace else to go, maybe we should find a way to work with them to make the situation acceptable to everyone. I bet that if we work with the kids hanging out in the park, they would be willing to be respectful and responsible. Instead of calling the local town councilor, why not get together with your neighbours and organize a regular “walk by” to discourage bad behavior? Why not contact the nearby schools and ask to organize teams of kids to look after the park and establish peer rules for activity there? Why not talk to the sports organizations that also use the same park to take more responsibility in patrolling the area?
I am sure there are many ways to address the issue. Instead of pointing fingers and insisting that we eliminate the park, maybe we should work together to solve the problem. After all, that’s what good neighbours do. Playbourhoods are about making it easy and acceptable for our kids to play close to home. Its about encouraging instead of discouraging kids to be a part of the neighbourhood. By playing a part, we can make it happen.