I had an incredible experience this past July, attending the Greater & Greener Conference in New York City. It was the largest gathering ever in the United States of Park, Trails and Open Space Professionals, Advocates, and Supporters, with more than 900 people from 200 cities and 20 countries.
The energy was palpable, from the pre-conference tours I took of several New York City parks and keynote speech by Mayor Michael Bloomberg to the multiple tracks of seminars, lectures and workshops. The buzz in the halls between sessions brought home to me some critical messages:
1. This is a national movement, an effort to re-imagine our parks, trails and establish more open space.
2. Parks are at the heart of our democracy. These community treasures exist to serve everyone and are a shared legacy, a shared resource and responsibility.
3. Parks are whatever we want them to be. Our parks and trails are limited only by our collective imagination.
4. Even in this moment of limited government resources and budget cuts affecting parks everywhere, we have an opportunity for citizens to invest themselves in owning and redefining parks, trails, and programs in creative new ways.
What this means for San Jose:
1. With some of the most creative people in the world living here, we can build on the experience of others who have already begun to successfully redefine their parks.
2. We now have a vehicle for unleashing the creativity and energy of our citizens: San Jose Parks Foundation.
The value of parks begins with the most obvious and simple attributes. Parks are for people. Parks empower communities.
I choose the term “empower,” because that is what a park can do in a many ways. Parks are gathering places for families, friends, teams, companies, church groups, and just about every other kind of group that exists in a community. A local park is frequently the place where people come together to “be a community.”
They gather to play sports, to exercise in small groups or as individuals, using the open space, the trails, fields, and general landscape for walking, running, jumping, and movement of every kind.
Parks are also places of relaxation and contemplation, whether a parent walking a child or friends sharing a park bench or the blanketed square of a gentle lawn, or a senior getting some fresh air in a safe and quiet place. From sitting and reading a book to thinking great thoughts, from the laughter of children to the whispers of lovers, parks are a place we go that are unique and wonderful.
Parks give every citizen a little more than he or she has as an individual; they expand the living space for every family and unite us as citizens. As Frederick Law Olmstead once proclaimed, “Parks are for people.”
James P. Reber, executive director of San Jose Parks Foundation, is a veteran nonprofit entrepreneur and experienced special event planner and producer. He can be reached at http://www.sanjoseparks.org / [email protected] / 408.893.PARK.