Saturday, September 20, 2014

What Makes a Park?

I started the morning off way too early in an attempt to get some sunrise photos from Mt Washington.  Unfortunately it got hazy right at sunrise, so I ended up with only a few pre-dawn pictures.

After that I repositioned to Big Dog to warm up and get some breakfast.  It was pretty chilly before sun up.

I left the coffee shop and soon after I found myself sitting in a park on the Southside.  That doesn't seem very unusual, but it occurred to me that I had never paid much attention to this particular park, and from my observations no one else does either.  I stopped because I thought it would make a good "See My Bike Leaning Against Stuff" photo, but I ended up looking around and really appreciating the space.  I ride past here often and almost never see anyone using this park.  It's a relatively narrow strip that runs four blocks long with a very nice area about midpoint that has chess (or checker) tables surrounding a giant chess board.

I remember watching men playing chess on a board like this in Germany.  The pieces were around two feet high and they would spend afternoons in the park playing and watching others play.  I've never seen anyone using this board for anything here. There are no large chess or checkers pieces to use. In fact, the only time I've even seen anyone sitting on the benches here seems to be if they're waiting for something - like either for REI to open or to meet someone for dinner at a nearby restaurant.  I've never seen anyone tossing a frisbee, playing with their dog, having a picnic, or just sprawling in the grass.  I don't know why. It's a very nice space.  Is Pittsburgh so over run with green spaces that we don't make use of them?  I don't think so.  Most of the other parks seem to see plenty of activity.  I enjoyed the sun while sitting on the bench here for a little while, and then gave up puzzling over the non-use and headed out to enjoy the day.

The irony of all of this is that my contemplation on the use of this space happened to be on "Parking Day".  I was on my way to meet some friends to ride around to see the "parks" created in parking spaces for this one day event.

I detoured by Thick Bikes to see their park even though I knew it was too early.  I caught them in the process of construction and absolutely loved that they transported the potted tree in their cargo bike.  

They were working hard to position flowers, shrubs and sod (which they put around some street trees at the end of the day) to create a cozy, green spot in the middle of a barren, one way street.  

Later they were giving lessons in fixing flat tires here.  I left them to finish their work and continued to downtown.

I arrived early at the Mayor's park, next to the courthouse.  I have to say that they did a very nice job with this, but when I arrived no one was using it.  

I sat down on the picnic bench and looked up to find two reporters (for rival newspapers) aiming cameras at me from opposite directions.  I suspect they'd been waiting awhile for someone to interact with this beach/picnic spot.  While I was talking with them a couple of ladies walked by looking at the space with confusion.  They asked us if they could take a picture in the park and I immediately told them of course!  I explained briefly what it was about and suggested that they could kick off their shoes and scrunch their toes in the sand; climb up on the lifeguard chair; take all the pictures they wanted to and enjoy the space.  A minute later it was like I was watching a photo shoot!  One lady was in the lifeguard chair and one was in the kiddie pool (dry - no water) laughing while the two photographers were clicking away.  I believe that made everyone very happy, including me because I despise having my picture taken and knew immediately that these new photos were what the professionals were really looking for.

While I waited for my friends to join me a broadcast journalism student from Point Park University approached me and asked if she could interview me for her school assignment.  Sigh.  I couldn't turn her down.  Thankfully my one friend showed up just about then so I didn't have to do it by myself.  Soon after that, our other friend arrived and we set off to see what the other parks were like.  

At the other end of the block, the city finance department had done a small park with a continuation of the theme in the mayor's park - except they didn't want to deal with the sand, so they used fake grass and pink flamingos for their tropical ambiance.  They gave out homemade cookies though, so what they lacked in beach atmosphere they more than made up for in stomach appeal.  They did a fantastic job of camouflaging the dumpster too. 

Along Liberty Ave we found an entire row of parks sponsored by various organizations.  

They had some games set up and some information on various programs, but one of the most interesting things there was a bench created by an intern at the Design Center. 

This was a really simply, sturdy, functional piece and I was really impressed.  I think it would be fantastic placed at bus stops around the city.  The bench was divided into three segments and each one could be placed in an up or down position to provide either a seat with a back or a table or bench.  They had maps depicted on the wood that served as the table top when the seat was folded in the down position.  The maps showed the city and the bike routes!  Very clever, useful and creative.  I hope I see this installed somewhere soon.

Out in Lawrenceville the community placed mini-golf holes in several locations.  Not one of us made a single putt on any of them, but it was a nice idea.

While we were out that way we rode over to the river trail to see if the peach tree there had produced any good peaches.  We discovered some really tiny peaches that were not very sweet at all. Hopefully the birds will appreciate them. 

I found parking day to be a mix.  Some of the make-shift parks were well thought out and it was obvious people put a lot of effort into them.  Some were merely a place for an organization to promote their agenda.  Still, it was a beautiful day to ride and it was nice to have these parks to investigate.