The Power of Our Parks


July 29, 2011, Washington, DC: I love this image from the family archives. It's a photo of my father running the bases more than 30 years ago in Montreal's Westmount Park, just across the street from our old apartment. The stories I've heard about Westmount evoke a place that was a great spot to begin raising a young family. I think this picture illustrates that, and reminds me of the role our neighborhood parks play in that equation.

No matter how old we are, playtime's important.

I've lived a stone's throw from some really great parks. Until recently, I didn't realize that many of those closest to home were actually designed by the very same person. Frederick Law Olmsted designed Central Park in New York, the grounds of the U.S. Capitol in D.C.; he even inspired Westmount Park in Montreal after designing nearby Mount Royal Park. His son, Frederick Law Olmsted, Jr., is behind projects including D.C.'s Rock Creek Park, the National Mall, and Olmsted Island at Great Falls on the Potomac. All of these are places I've most enjoyed near home, whether as a child, a college student or an adult.

There are others, too, that have shaped my time in cities... small neighborhood parks perched among city blocks like the one atop of San Francisco's Nob Hill, where older Asian women gather each morning as the fog lifts for a session of Tai Chi, or larger parks that connect one neighborhood to the next. From Chicago's Lincoln Park I could hop on my bike and get started on a ride that would take me clear up to Evanston. From my Woodley Park entrance to Rock Creek, I could cruise down to the Potomac or all the way up a shaded Beach Drive.

I covet our little parks and our big ones. It's comforting to know the weekday office softball games continue throughout Washington today just like they did in Westmount decades ago. I'm not sure I'd enjoy big city living like I do without our parks.

When's the last time you spent time in the park? What are your favorite hometown parks? At what age did parks play the biggest role in your life?