I had my little one home from school the other day, so we decided to head out to the park and enjoy the pleasant spring weather. Down at Crapo Park, I happened to notice that on the back side of the climbing wall, there was an abundance of graffiti, with plenty of very visible “colorful” language.
Now, I didn’t have a Holden Caulfield moment upon seeing it, philosophizing about ruining all of the good things in life, or at least in our community. I just called the Village of Holly Department of Public Works to let them know of it and was glad my son was too young to notice, much less read it.
It did get me thinking, though, on how desensitized I am to seeing graffiti and other forms of vandalism. Picnic tables are carved, foul language is inscribed here and there, sides of buildings are adorned with something far short of street art. And of course there is the infamous skate park, which still remains a symbol of the perception of Holly’s supposed “horrible, rotten youth.”
Part of Holly’s recognition as a Playful City USA is community involvement and investment in our play areas and parks, and quality of those facilities is a part of it. We want our public spaces to be clean and in good condition, free from inappropriate epithets or other conditions that reflect poorly on Holly.
So what do we do about it? Put up chain link fencing and barbed wire around our parks? Pass a millage to hire full-time patrol officers provide a constant presence at the playgrounds? Enact mandatory community service to force a sense of civic investment in our common areas? Is the cost, effort or image of any of these activities worth the outcomes?
There’s one simple solution to the problem; it’s not fool-proof, but it would certainly work fairly well: use our parks. Constantly.
Vandalism of this nature is usually a crime of opportunity. Delinquents don’t get together after school and draft up plans of what four-letter words they’re going to ink on our play equipment. Vandals loiter, get bored, and impulsively destroy things to look cool to their friends or exert their control over something they don’t feel invested in.
Usually, this occurs in the absence of another adult or authority figure. Most kids know right from wrong, but some kids judge wrongness proportionally with the chance of getting caught (and some adults, too).
Derelicts are going to be far less prone to whip out their Sharpie marker and write poems about Nantucket if the park is full of playing children under their parents’ watchful eye. Chances are, if they’re just looking for trouble, they wouldn’t even hang out there. As our parks close at dusk, that’s where the police take over with their patrols, since no one should be there anyway.
Active usage of our parks and playgrounds doesn’t just deter current vandalism, it also prevents future vandalism from the same kids who grew up playing in our parks. Parents are in prime position to teach pro-social lessons to their children, like valuing their community assets–not by intervening per se, but by simply teaching pride in our facilities by using and taking care of them.
There is no such thing as a 100% crime free community, and we often look to the authorities as the answer to issues like vandalism. While the police have their place, and the core responsibility lies with parents teaching their children right from wrong, we have a very powerful weapon to use in maintaining the quality of our community—ourselves.