Having grown up in cities and in apartments I have always thought of parks as communal backyards. From an early age I saw them as the place this only child could play with other children. Where I could learn that sharing, cause you know how every parent of an only child heard the myth and is over the top OCD about making sure we only children share, did not mean letting someone take something home. That it meant waiting your turn to get on a slide and that there are some mean ass kids out there.
As a teenager parks were the places you hid from adults in as night settled in. They were you went to play handball if they had a handball wall or to watch a boy you liked shoot baskets through metal hoops. These were the places that at night, especially Astoria Park - look it up, great view of the city and great Hell's Gate Bridge, you went to sit for hours on the railing and talk about boys and dreams and making fun of the adults that just didn't get us. You did some serious singing along too to whatever songs you were into. It was where you saw boys going aimlessly back through a loop just to spin out by some girl they wanted to impress, or for other boys who would appreciate whatever roar that engine gave. It was where radios blasted next to us and from cars. Where you learned to hide the beer you were too young to have bought, got the excuse for the reason you smelled liked cigarettes (but Ma I wasn't smoking the person next to me was that's why I smell like smoke). It was the place you found love in dark spots and smoked that thing legal only in some States now, but for sure not legal anywhere then. It was the places that fights broke out and sections were divided in unspoken rules but respected because it was better to be there than not. Especially in the summer.
We walked to parks as kids, as teenagers. We avoided nights in Central Park, Tompkins Square Park, Washington Square Park when NY was not cleaned up and these places were dangerous in the dark. Probably learned our caution from them but who doesn't love to cross Central Park, smack in the middle of a wonderful metropolis, in the daytime.
In recent years I have traveled with my kids and in London, Paris, Rome, Venice they got a kick out of going to the parks there. While we of course sat and enjoyed the scene, the fact that they were getting some energy out and of course some wine (it is Europe they have great wines and beers at these places).
Parks - the places where I took my kids even living in suburbia because I did not want them to just play in the backyard with one another. I wanted them to meet people from this town, took them to neighboring towns and they made friends that they count among their closest from those encounters. I live in a town where it's a roughly 50 - 50 divide on caucasian, latino and other (mix it up in your head and we have it). I love that about this town. Just like when they were in Europe it exposes my kids to having to make friends with or deal with people who aren't like them but who like scaling that monkey bar or a good game of tag as much as they do. They learned that not everyone plays fair in the sandbox because who the inside of a person is has nothing to do with what they look like.
So imagine my dismay and my surprise to read that parks in Westchester are not always open to the public. Now in my Village of Ossining they are. We welcome all - how could we not? They provide a good place to play regardless of economic status. You learn "5 more minutes" said in any language is the kids common plea regardless of how long you have been there. The Village part of the Town I live in has another Village in it. The residents that I know who live there, both those lucky enough to be part of our school system and the ones that are not and part of their own good school system, are really nice people. They are a town of much higher income and much lower diversity, ok almost none, but they seem welcoming. Just painting a picture folks not making a statement.
Our Rec Center allows non-residents to join at a higher rate than residents and theirs doesn't. Our train station allows for non-resident parking, yes at a higher rate. Our parks have no signs that restrict access except for the residents of our Village .. WAIT WHAT??? How do you restrict access to a park that is open, no gates, not gated community that sit where both Villages of the same Town are located? It is not unique to Briarcliff but it is shameful to me. I get it blah blah they pay taxes but don't we all? How are their awesome kids going to be able to experience the wonder of meeting our amazing kids if they are kept apart by a sign??
When did public parks become not public? I mean what is the point of a park if not to learn to play nice in the sandbox (that means for everyone). They claim it keeps out people who may be disrespectful to rules and grounds - well then hate to break it to you we weren't always as kind to the parks we were in as kids as we should have been but have mostly grown up to be productive adults who taught their kids to be more respectful of those places than we were in many ways.
This is like the rhetoric of a certain candidate who shall not be named in all of these towns - it is keeping out anyone who is not already here and that is not the nation we should be. Tear down these signs people, if Ronald Regan can ask this of a wall dividing a city and a whole government system and that city survived I am confident tearing down the sign and letting children play together will not be the death knell of Briarcliff Manor, Dobbs Ferry, Croton or any other other place. Maybe their residents for the most part don't know about these signs, don't know that they appear to endorse exclusionary, elitist, outdated rules (since I grew up in the late 70s I am hoping these archaic ones around here predate that). I believe that people love the areas they live in and I believe that we all agree if someone is destructive they should be punished by fines or arrest if warranted. A sign won't deter either of those but it will deprive our children of each other and of understanding that the best place to learn to meet and deal with others is in a good game of tag at a public park. Funny as an only child I was reminded over and over to share - hmm saying the same thing to the adults who make these rules, share the park. "Briarcliff Manor, Dobbs Ferry, Croton and others tear down those signs".... in the immortal words of JFK "Ich bin ein Berliner".