As it continues ramping up its public partner initiative, America’s Backyard, NRPA conducted a brief survey on a number of topics relating to our early memories of parks and recreation. As check-the-dot, pull-down questionnaires go, it was good—with one maddening exception. How in the space of one line to describe my first exposure to parks and recreation? Impossible. In the short year or so we lived in Washington, D.C., the Macomb Street, N.W., park and its rec center became my after-school haven. With its ball field and activities room there was nothing my friends and I lacked.
Unorganized activities included board games, ping pong, pick-up softball games, and other decidedly low-tech stuff. Periodically, there were structured short-term activities that I believe shaped who I am today—drama classes and competitions, archery and other competitions, art lessons (wasted on me, but what the heck), and plenty more. While I can’t remember where my keys are in the morning, I do remember the two kind and gentle staff members, Ron and Harriet, as if it was just yesterday. How they so smoothly inveigled goofy pre-teens to sample so many different activities is a marvel to me today.
What brings Macomb Street to mind today is the cover story of the March issue of Parks & Recreation which features what to an 11-year-old in 1961 can only seem otherworldly. This feature on the leading-edge recreation facilities showcases amazing architectural accomplishments. Form doesn’t just follow function in these facilities, it does so in great style. Still, I can’t help but contrast them with the two-room brick activities center and correspondingly small ball field on Macomb Street. Several years ago, I drove by Macomb Street, and what was a national park to me as a kid is as small and modest as a facility comes.
And this is good. Because it points up the importance of the spirit and good intentions behind a parks and recreation program. The magic that goes into a facility is what counts. My hunch is that my Macomb Street experience isn’t unique. It would be good to know what you, the readers of P&R Now, think. And you’ve got more than one line to describe your exposure to parks and recreation.