We lived in Salt Lake City until I was 6 years old. Many of my memories from that time revolve around Liberty Park, where our family often went. Here’s one of those memories.
My mom, who is hugely pregnant with my brother, takes me for a ride on the Ferris wheel. I’ve never been on a Ferris wheel before and I LOVE IT! I feel like I’m a bird. Hey, birds! I’m one of you guys now!
We go around once. We go around twice. And then I hear my mother call out to the kid running the Ferris wheel.
“Oh, Farm Boy,” she says, although she doesn’t actually say “Oh, Farm Boy,” because Westley and Princess Buttercup haven’t been invented yet. It’s just that her tone is regal as she continues to speak. “Will you please let us get off the Ferris wheel now? My little girl is afraid.”
I stare at my mother in disbelief. Even though I am very young, I realize that she is using me as an excuse. SHE’S the one who doesn’t want to be on the Ferris wheel. Is that what being pregnant does to mothers? Turns them into people who are NO FUN AT ALL?!
I make a decision right then and there to torment my soon-to-be sibling who’s just ruined my Ferris wheel ride for the rest of our lives.
Which I’ve done. You can call his office in Bountiful and ask him for yourself.
Anyway. Liberty Park. I loved it then and I love it still, with its huge spreading trees and sprawling lawns, inviting us city dwellers to gather and feel as if we’re someplace growing and ancient. Like Middle Earth. Except without the Orcs. I go there at least two or three times a week — to walk with Gigi or to run with my dog Tinkerbell, aka “the Tomato Rustler,” aka “The Vegetable Slayer.”
You can thank the Public Park Movement, which flowered in the 19th century, for urban parks all over America, including Liberty Park here and Central Park in New York. As urbanization and industrialization grew, visionary leaders in those days insisted on maintaining pieces of Eden for people who worked in factories and lived in cramped quarters. They believed green spaces were good for citizens — rich AND poor. Everyone needed open spaces in which to walk and play and sit and listen to music played from a bandstand.
This same impulse drove the creation of state and national parks, too. Those spaces are there for all of us.
That’s why I’m surprised whenever I encounter the attitude that suggests our governments — city, county, state, federal — somehow took land away from “the people” to create these places. I want individuals who think this way to define “the people” for me. Exactly who are “the people” we’re talking about here? You can certainly make the case that the government stole land from American Indians, of course, but I’m pretty sure that’s not who these folks are talking about.
It seems to me if these various branches of government hadn’t preserved open spaces, then all that real estate would have ended up in the hands of fewer and fewer individuals to do whatever they chose to do with it. Build condos. Office buildings. Luxury spas. Golf courses. Subdivisions.
None of these things is bad. Obviously. But they inherently limit access to the public at large. Meanwhile, a select few developers would have grown even wealthier from their construction.
So. As summer winds down and you spend some time in Liberty Park — or any park — be glad you can still feel the grass beneath your feet any old time you feel like it.
And so can everybody else.