Until a couple of weeks ago, I hadn’t visited the Heart-of-the-City playground since I helped spread gravel in never-ending rain last fall. What a difference a few months make! The playground is fabulous in more ways than I have room to talk about.
But, like most good things, it’s not without problems.
One of which is vandalism. Another is use by people of inappropriate age and size for the playground equipment. Teenagers, in other words. Apparently some teens have been misusing and abusing this wonderful new space, which is heartbreaking but not all that surprising. Solutions, including video surveillance and increased police presence, are being implemented. But cameras and cops won’t solve the underlying problem.
When it comes to places to hang out and have fun, Cookeville teenagers don’t have a whole lot of choices. Not that we’re unique. Bored teens have been “cruising the strip” looking for something to do ever since the car was invented. Maybe even before that. And adults have wrung their hands and wondered what to do about it.
Ironically, the strip mall that sat on the western edge of what is now Dogwood Park once housed the “1319 Club.” The brainchild of concerned parents, it was designed as a place where teens could spend time with their friends in a safe, welcoming environment. Because my children were too young to attend, I didn’t get involved with the club and don’t know why it didn’t succeed.
Our community is blessed with many church youth programs and plenty of parents who welcome their children’s friends into their homes. But teenagers don’t have a public place that’s just theirs. A place to hang out and talk and listen to music. To throw a football or a Frisbee. To skateboard. To participate in parkour.
I’d never even heard of that word until I read the rules posted at the entrance to the Heart-of-the-City playground. No bare feet. No cleats. No littering. No animals. No tobacco. No food or drink. No skateboarding. No bikes or trikes. No parkour.
I pulled out my smart phone and googled it. I learned that parkour has its roots in military obstacle course training. The goal is to get from one point to another in a complex environment without assistive equipment and in the fastest and most efficient way possible. It’s not considered a sport because there are no rules, teams or points. Parkour requires physical and mental strength and cunning. Simply put, somebody starts chasing somebody. The person being chased runs, climbs, crawls, leaps and vaults past any obstacle in the way, trying not to get caught.
In other words, an extreme version of tag.
Though it doesn’t sound like something I’m all that enthusiastic about participating in, I understand why teenagers might like parkour. It’s simple, it’s free and it’s a great way to blow off steam. I also understand why it’s not appropriate for Dogwood Park or the Hobby Lobby parking lot or most other places. But surely there’s some location in Cookeville suitable for parkour. Maybe the site of the old Parkview pool. Maybe even a vacant lot somewhere in the heart of the city.
It’s something the young people of this community deserve. And the sooner we provide it, the better. Shooing them away isn’t the answer.
(April 3, 2016)