What Residential Neighborhoods Need

I took my six-year-old daughter to Bigelow Park today. She loves that park, even though the playground equipment has recently been replaced with new equipment that is so safe the playground is rendered almost pointless. I watch kid after kid run up the graadddually staggered platforms and then get to the top and look around like, "What now?"
At least they finally got the swings put in. There is also a round cup that you can sit in and spin around. Its pretty cool, though still a far cry from the merry-go-rounds we used to have that's momentum would send children flying in all directions across the park.
The ground is covered with a mural made of colorful chewy stuff, so you can't get hurt. But its not really necessary, as there's nowhere to fall from. The slides are very slow and short, with rounded corners. I'm so glad I was a kid back in the days of the teeter-totter.
Despite these bland improvements, my kid still loves Bigelow park. That whole neighborhood is one of the best in Olympia. It has a soul. I think it is largely because of its excellent residential destinations. More neighborhoods should have places like the San Fransisco St. Bakery, where on a Sunday morning you can see everyone who lives within a 2 mile radius waiting sleepily in line for a cup of coffee and a pastry. There are also two small markets, Puget Pantry and Don's. Both good for a beer when its too late to drive to the big store, a popsicle on a too-hot summer afternoon, or for middle schoolers to buy candy on the walk home from school. I just don't understand why we zone business out of residential neighborhoods! Every good residential nighborhood has a few of these wonderful places where its possible to catch one's neighbor out before they've had a shave.
The same spirit of integration into residential life is what makes Bigelow such a great park. It is on a small hill, so you can see all the surrounding houses, but it is also distinguished by big shady trees. Its just big enough- the size of a city block, so it has no get-away places, but instead feels like a big public square. People cut through on their bicycles, and kids wander by in flip-flops looking for something to do. It has a few modest, classic amenities. The playground, basketball hoop, a few picnic tables, a small covered area, and a little baseball diamond.
There is also a small amphitheatre made of large sculptural slabs of stone. Most children prefer it to the playground. Toddlers like to step from rock to rock, testing their jumping abilities. Older children enjoy making concoctions in the bird bath that is carved into one of the rocks. Adults like to sit on the rocks and chat. Because it is such a small area, they are less nervous, and less likely to be interrupted by children demanding, "Watch me!" "Catch ME!" "Chase me!" and the like.
I like this so much better than many of the big, fancy parks I have been to. There's something so unique and so intrinsic about the small, square, city neighborhood park. I would like to see one such park in every residential neighborhood within city limits. I think the only ones we have currently that fit the bill are Lions and Bigelow.
And wouldn't it be great if there were more residential hang-outs like "The Bakery"? Westside residents ought to demand it!
If I were on city council, I'd be thinking about how we could use zoning to encourage more neighborhoods to have souls.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

People instinctively know when things are as they should be. When all the elements are there they feel and taste that they are right where they belong. Sadly there are many in our community that never get to feel what you feel in your neighborhood. Where they live is devoid of the elements you so beautifully described. Even the environment you are in has an influence on your prose. Because there are those that have not experience what you have described they probably do not know what they are missing and just accept what they are getting from the neighborhoods they reside in. I would urge all to wander around the Bigelow district. Shaving not necessary.

Crenshaw Sepulveda

1:22 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I've lived in this ( Bigelow)
neighborhood for 9 years. We're a quirky place that has changed a lot.. people have been caring more in the past five years about their yards and their community culture. There are more people walking and biking than there used to be.

But I think any neighborhood that can dream of making things better can do it.

By the way.. just down the block from Bigelow there is a budding community garden. Anyone who has some extra time -stop by and weed or beautify as you best see fit.


12:24 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I have only been to this park once but from what I have seen the park is a great place for children. The day that I went there were a lot of people there and it was really fun to see all the children there having fun. I also saw people with dogs. Parks have changed over the years but the city just want to make it safer for children and trying to teach children things. The park is really well layed out and family seem to like to bring there children there.

8:46 PM  

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