The last few times I drove by City Park it was shut tight.
At first, since I arrive at work in the wee hours, I thought maybe they just kept it locked overnight to discourage vandalism. With this in mind I went out of my way to check it out during the day. Sure enough, it was still secured. I assumed—correctly, I have since learned—that there is construction still to be completed, a good reason to keep it closed. However, a close look at the fencing troubles me.
If you look carefully at the perimeter of the facility you can see the kind of dual fencing, complete with a no-mans zone, like you might see in a prison—an 8-foot-tall outer fence, a space of several feet, followed by a smaller interior fence bordering the entire park. There is more fencing separating the individual playing fields. The more I looked it over it struck me that the combined fencing achieves a total lock-out.
I called the New Rochelle Department of Parks and Recreation for some clarification. As always, the capable and affable commissioner, Bill Zimmermann, was available to talk. Indeed, Available could be his nickname. He is not the type to just sit behind a desk and can often be found walking through the facilities for which he is responsible.
The essence of our conversation reminded me of the line in the Godfather when Barzini sums up the meeting on the sale of drugs: “The trafficking of drugs will be permitted but controlled.” Zimmermann explained that, yes, the city wants very much to protect and maintain the multimillion-dollar investment, and that access to the fields would be controlled. There will be park officials on premises who will grant entrance and monitor usage.
My question was whether a parent and his/her kids who wants to go "hit a few out" on one of the ball fields will have to get a permit. Fortunately, the answer was no; when the park is not in use for a scheduled event, the public will have use of it. They will, though, have to check in with the persons on duty, let them know what they are doing and will be expected to follow rules intended to keep the park clean and well-maintained.
To be fair, it is early. While there was a a couple of weeks ago, the park is still not officially opened, and there are nature trails and a playground yet to be completed. It seems obvious that these additions will be accessible without checking in with anyone.
But I remain concerned.
I cannot get my head around the fear that softball fields could go the way of locked-up tennis courts in upscale neighborhoods. For right or wrong, I have always viewed these venues as elitist and intended to keep me and other “city kids” out. I also thought it unnecessary. Most of the kids I hung out with were not interested in tennis enough to climb the fence. Baseball? We would climb the Berlin Wall to get in.
Those of you of Italian or other immigrant cultures will remember how some of our parents and grandparents, formed by scant wealth and the great depression, hated to use anything new. They would buy elegant furniture for their living rooms and the very best kitchen appliances only to spend their waking hours in the basement. The "upstairs" was for show—or only the most special guests.
And so I wait. Will the kids of New Rochelle who cannot afford—or do not have the skills—to play on an organized team, have easy access to the park? After all, even my grandmother gave in and bought plastic seat covers.