LETTER: Proposed Park Would Be Faux Public 

You know what is great about living in a city? Public spaces.

We can walk down these sidewalks, stop and chat with friends. We can meet up in parks, have a coffee. On summer days, we can lay in the park grass, under the shade of hundred-year-old trees, with the sounds of city bristling about in the wind. And when we feel the need to speak up about issues we find unjust, we can assemble on these public spaces.

City planners have realized the value of public spaces since the time of the Greeks, and accordingly, made sure to build them into the development of every city. They felt they were good for both the people, and the people's democracy. It was the closest thing to egalitarianism that planning could provide for.

And they work. This country's history of political assembly and speeches are a history of its public spaces. Martin Luther King's "I Have a Dream" speech is as much a history of civil rights as it is of the space it took place on, the Lincoln Memorial, which sits upon the National Mall, a public space. On a publicly owned space, you are guaranteed your rights to assembly and freedom of speech.

If you've ever wondered why you have never heard a speech or seen an assembly at a mall or in a suburb, it is because that is a private space. Private spaces are limited by what the owning entity wants to allow on that space. In such settings, even the greatest park, water fountain, swath of grass or set of benches becomes ornamental — a reminder of what could happen in a public space.

Mayor Dwight Jones has released a proposal for Monroe Park that will pass the ownership of that park into private hands. He wants this city to have a privately owned plot of land, masquerading as a public place. And if he gets his way, he will turn those tall trees, that grass, that water fountain, into something ornamental. And while the private entity that will own it may greatly benefit, I can think of one group that will definitely lose: the public.

In a time where much of our congregation occurs in privately owned domains, both in physical and digital realms, we must stick up for the few public spaces we have left. The public spaces that allow a city to be a city. We must say no to bringing the planning of the suburbs to the cities. We must have real public spaces, not ornamental private land.

Gary Llama
Richmond

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