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Inequity in Park Facilities?

The Editor's Column
Posted by WhosPlayin on 2009/3/20 0:40:00 (3740 reads)

Yesterday we read with interest a blog post on the campaign website of Winston Edmondson, who is running for Mayor of Lewisville. Edmondson had visited Central Park, and spoken with a little boy who complained that his neighborhood park, Sycamore Park, needed "real" bathrooms. Edmondson drove to Sycamore Park where he photographed two portable toilets.

"Instead of the nice, sanitary bathrooms with running water, which most of us are accustomed to, Sycamore Park has port-o-potties. I tell my kids not to use portable toilets because they're usually filthy. Seomeone felt that these were acceptable for the children of this neighborhood? I approached these portable stalls and was nearly knocked down by the odor. There is no excuse for this. Sycamore Park is the only park in Lewisville with conditions like this. I promise that nothing like this will EVER happen on my watch."

Now, I wasn't familiar with Sycamore Park, so I had to look it up on a map:

View Larger Map

My first thought on reading this was to try to recall whether my neighborhood's tiny Willow Grove Park, in Southwestern Lewisville has toilets. Surely, I would have remembered seeing portable toilets. As it turns out, there are not. No porta-loos, and no permanent buildings.

Today, city staff provided this explanation about our parks:

Sycamore Park is a 4.1 acre neighborhood park. The primary function of a neighborhood park is the provision of recreational space for the neighborhood which surrounds it. Space in the neighborhood park should be distributed between active and passive uses.

Central Park is a 39.5 acre community park. A community park is larger in size than a neighborhood park and provides service to several neighborhoods or specific sections of the community. The community park is oriented primarily toward providing recreational opportunities not feasible in a neighborhood park. Community parks should be developed for both active and passive use.

Okay, so we understand that comparing these two parks (Central and Sycamore) is like comparing apples to oranges. But what is the criteria for determining restroom placement? City staff had this answer:
Sycamore Park is one of thirteen neighborhood parks in the Lewisville park system. The portable toilets were placed in the park upon request several years ago. The portable toilets can be removed from the park if the neighborhood no longer desires to have them in the park. There are portable toilets in other park areas but not in other neighborhood parks. Austin Kent Ellis Park is the only neighborhood park with a restroom facility. This is a very unusual situation with two neighborhood parks adjacent to each other and divided by an alley (Austin Kent Ellis and Iris Lane). The proximity of the parks to each other and the heavy sports use creates more of community park in function which justifies the restroom facility. There are a total of six community parks in the Lewisville park system with public restrooms in only three of the park areas.
(Emphasis mine)
So, it would seem that having the portable toilets was sort of a special dispensation, based on resident requests. I can imagine that need arising if for instance, you had vagrants urinating and defecating in the open, or if there were no convenient homes or businesses nearby.

There is the question of the non-working drinking fountains though:
"As Mayor, this embarrassment will be corrected. Real bathrooms with running water will be constructed, just like the other parks have. In addition to that, the water fountain will be repaired. Sycamore Park will have water fountains with fresh, cool, flowing water, just like the other parks."

Staff had this response:
"Park drinking fountains are drained and winterized each fall to protect them from damage during the cold winter months. The park maintenance crews began flushing and servicing the fountains last week. All fountains will be operational in the next few days barring any delay due to winter damage."

Well, that makes perfect sense to me. We turn off our outside faucets each winter to protect them from freezing. I never had thought about the need to do that with water fountains. City staff note that 10 of the city's 13 neighborhood parks have no water fountains at all. As someone who hates to see plastic bottles sitting under Mt. Lewisville forever after quenching someone's thirst just once, I'm all in favor of getting more water fountains. I wonder what that would cost?

Edmondson went on to discuss a creek that runs along the walking trail in Sycamore Park:
The residents have frequently complained about the creek that runs parallel to the walking trail. It clearly poses a danger to children. I agree with you, and we'll do something about it. We'll construct railing, or some other safety mechanism so your children can ride their bikes and skateboards safely, just like all the other parks. You have my word.

This part really didn't make sense to me. As a kid, I was all about playing in creeks. The "danger" is part of the fun. I remember coming home soaked more than a few times. But thinking again about Central Park or the Timber Creek Trail that just opened near Central Park, neither of them have railings. In fact, here's a little video of me and my kids playing down in the creek last year, watching the fish and tadpoles swim around:

That said, I guess if the neighborhoods want a rail to prevent unsupervised children from falling into a creek, that won't bother me. I'll just hop over. I would just imagine that if we put rails along all of the city's miles of creek, it could get really expensive really quickly.

Upon examining all of this, it does seem pretty clear to me that this is not a case of inequity in our parks. Rather it's the case of a guy who loves his city dearly, running for mayor, and looking for a platform by talking to the citizens. In this case, Mr. Edmondson went over the top. It is absolutely admirable to seek input and suggestions, and to stand up for the citizens. But as this blogger has learned the hard way, and continues to struggle with, sometimes our visceral reactions to a perceived inequity can blind us to our duty to check the facts and get a second opinion.

Here's what really made me feel embarrassed for Mr. Edmondson, because I've done the same thing in the past:
"Dean, if you'll get in touch with me and let me know why you're okay with this type of disparity, I'll update this post with your response. That goes for all of the issues that I'm investigating on behalf of the citizens that feel as though they've been ignored. From this day forward they will be heard. I will be their voice."

I cringe because in the time I've known and watched Dean Ueckert, though I've certainly disagreed with his position on some issues, I've always believed him to be a reasonable guy who would be very concerned with any appearance of inequity.

Last night, I told Mr. Edmondson that I thought the piece was "over the top". I hope the rest of the campaign will see more civil and restrained discourse.

WhosPlayin will try to have written interviews in the coming weeks with all of the Mayoral candidates: Dean Ueckert, Winston Edmondson, and Brandon Bertrand.

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