by Spencer Early, Green Spaces Correspondent
In a public Citiparks meeting last week, Mayor Bill Peduto made the controversial proposition to allow certain parks for recreational use. Citing difficulties with enforcement and expressing doubt about the deleterious health effects of using parks for fun, Peduto put forth this contentious suggestion. The proposed pilot program, “Let’s Have Fun at a Park”, will gradually phase in parks for recreational use, starting with Schenley. While the practice of visiting one of the city’s parks to go for a run, walk the dog, or otherwise benefit one’s physical and mental health is commonly accepted, this highly contested move of legalizing the act of visiting a park for fun has created divisive lines in our community.
“Enjoying your recreational options should be a personal choice,” said pro-recreational park user Ben Blazer. Other voices supporting the recreational use of Schenley Park included police chief Scott Schubert, contending that “excessive enforcement and inspection of doctor’s orders to ensure visitors of Schenley Park are there solely for medical purposes is straining on the city budget. By opening Schenley Park for recreational use, we can re-channel our resources towards cutting down on violent crime, as well as potentially boosting the economy.”
However, others are not so thrilled with the proposal. Director of park safety Bea Keehrful warns “We don’t want people to think that going to a park to play can be a wholesome activity. Any form of recreation is inextricably linked with ill side effects. Also, visiting parks ‘just for fun’ can be a dangerous gateway into other risky activities such as standing up to stretch for every hour of sitting at a desk.” Such mounting concerns are reasons why Schenley Park is still awaiting approval for recreational use. Concerned citizen Bob Boring worried that “[my daughter’s] school will allow them to go past the safety of the fenced-in playground to a park for so-called ‘recreational use’ – imagine what horrors she might see. It still sends chills down my spine recalling The Incident of the summer of ‘05 when the two kids caught playing hopscotch at Mellon Park got carted off to jail. Recreational use of parks is illegal for a reason.”
In the meantime, Peduto recommends visiting Schenley Park for recreational purposes under the cover of darkness until the law is passed.