I took a few moments during lunch today to write about a topic that I think has gotten out of hand. I don’t like getting involved in political commentary in the least and just the fact that this is such a high profile and polarizing political discussion quite frankly sickens me, along with the fact I even have to call this a political topic. Nashua currently has a “gift” that is being presented to them by the Leadership of Greater Nashua organization (LGN). The 2012 class decided to give the city an accessible playground (known as the legacy playground) by updating the existing, worn down and dilapidated structures currently in Greeley Park. Sounds like a great deal, right? Your current equipment will be updated and replaced to meet ADA requirements, the new equipment is all free, and the organization has even taken the time to do an extensive study of multiple city parks to determine the best location among them (which has revealed some disturbing facts as is). The cost to the city would be to update the chosen site and make the necessary facilities accessible. So what’s with the constant hold up and the constant opposition and protest from citizens?
While this post isn’t about sustainability it is about a category of it, social equity (see the Living Building Challenge). Not just that, the ongoing study and discussion has revealed something about the city of Nashua which is an unfortunate trend in many communities. When budgets get tight, park maintenance is the first to go. Some existing parks which were looked at would require far more extensive work than the site work that would need to be done at Greeley Park based on slopes and existing grades, existing or updating restroom facilities, extending/adding parking, asbestos mitigation (Nashua has tons of asbestos), adding fencing for safety, and updating equipment to be accessible. The playground at Greeley hasn’t been updated because of costs because it would have to meet the ADA requirements if it were repaired. So this equipment (which was pretty dangerous when I was a child some 25 years ago) has slowly fallen into disrepair.
In short, neighbors of the park simply just don’t want it there. There’s no other way to put it or explain it even though there is existing playground equipment on the park. It’s been made out by them that it will to be such an eyesore and the park isn’t up to code and it’ll be loud and there’ll be cars and they’ll all be from out of state, put it somewhere else. Except in theory, wouldn’t these same issues happen at any park and neighborhood selected? In the south end where I live, Yudicky Farms was a proposed site, which is right near the Massachusetts border. Are we going to stop those neighbors from going to play simply because they’re out of state? Hollis sure doesn’t object to the out of state residents coming to enjoy Silver Lake in the summer. The Lakes Region and the Mountain regions welcome those from Massachusetts willing to spend their vacations in our scenic state (and spend money) with open arms. I suppose the possibility that people would, I don’t know, stop at a Main Street restaurant for lunch after spending the afternoon at the park is out of the question. And really, listing all of those complaints only to say put it somewhere is the equivalent of saying, “This tastes awful, here try it,” to that neighborhood.
Maybe I’m not a neighbor of the park but I was born and raised in Nashua and was a frequent visitor of Greeley park up until I left for college. Our babysitter took us there as kids and we’d ride the merry go round (long since gone, way too dangerous) play on the see saws, hide under the tree and pretend to shoot cars with the cannon. As a teenager it included friends shows at the bandstand, softball games on the fields, cookouts and celebrations, capture the flag in the woods and of course prom photos. Creating an environment that allows children and adults of all abilities this same opportunity shouldn’t even be a question or up for debate and the fact that it has been so rigorously discussed is embarrassing.
Many of the questions being directed at the LGN wouldn’t even be considered until a design for the site was completed, let alone before a site was picked and a scope could be generated. People want to see a plan and have final numbers and those things cannot be provided until a site is chosen, that’s just how design works. But the LGN has done an incredible amount of due-diligence and research and work and has been prepared for many questions thrown at them and incredibly patient with the process. This past Tuesday the Board of Alderman voted to fund a study that will look at all of the exact same issues that the LGN’s study has addressed. What’s most troubling about that is that many of those who voted for that study have supported funding studies in the past for other projects that complete the same analysis a city run organization has already completed. This result is completing redundant work while simultaneously cutting back on funding for other issues because of the “financial burden on taxpayers.” The Legacy park is unfortunately just the latest tool with which they have to continue this practice. I don’t know if the goal is to wear down the LGN in hopes that they say “never mind” or to prove some kind of point, but the behavior is causing a political eyesore on the city.
Many people are upset with the urgency but as the LGN representative pointed out, funding and grant opportunities come with a timeline for application, one that I’m sure requires having a site confirmed. Donations to support the construction and initial maintenance of the park will likely come once a site is chosen. In the meantime this discussion has been analyzed to death and I don’t understand how there can still be so many questions. It’s possible through grants and other funding opportunities that there could be no cost to the city at all, but that’s not something that can be answered without a site. And in comparison to other projects, over two years of discussion essentially without a line drawn isn’t exactly the definition of urgency and haste.
Unless there’s a detail that has been seriously overlooked, the discussion has gone on long enough and many people are ready to move this project forward. The playground won’t impact me any, as I am neither disabled nor have disabled children, but as I said, I think the important thing is providing people the same opportunity to have as many experiences in Greeley park as I have had. The accessibility of Greeley will need to be addressed one way or another to keep the Jewel of the city available to all.