Last night, we had our second “Party in the Park” event of the year. These are low-key, friendly cookouts that we throw a few times each summer in various parks throughout the district. We invite everyone in the neighborhood, fire up the grill and talk with residents.
While people are eating or watching their kids play on the playground, we circulate and introduce ourselves. We usually have a few newsy topics we want to share, but often, we end up talking about whatever the people at that table want to discuss.
Some people will have questions about projects or programs. More often, we hear stories of what the park has meant to those who live nearby – people who remember bringing their kids to the park to play and who bring their grandkids.
New residents meet their neighbors and forge friendships at the playgrounds. Dog owners get to know each other and each others’ dogs during daily walks. People recount memories of the amenity and landscaping projects that have been completed over the years. It’s their park.
They love telling us these stories, and we love hearing them. They remind us the value of public parks is more than just fresh air, exercise and physical activity. It also is more than the increase in home value that comes with living in proximity to a park (about 20 percent). It’s more than the cleaner air and water we get from having ample green spaces in our suburban environment. The value in public parks is the integral role they play in forming a community – the relationships, memories and feeling of connectedness that makes a place feel like home.
Our park district will turn 50 years old next year. It’s a great time to celebrate accomplishments and reminisce. We will collect notes and photos from everyone to share about how the park district has been part of their lives. Please watch our upcoming activity guides for details. We hope you’ll take a moment to share your story with us.
Julie Mason Vogl is director of marketing services for the Carol Stream Park District.