How can you not love a great city park?

“One of the most important but least recognized essentials to an attractive and healthy urban environment is a well-designed and well-maintained network of city parks—an essential component of any city’s infrastructure. Parks support public health, the economy, the environment, education, and community cohesion. They are also critical to workforce development, particularly green career tracks. Parks make our cities sustainable, livable and vibrant.” – City Parks Alliance

Mission Dolores Park, San Francisco - Wikipedia photo
Mission Dolores Park, San Francisco – Wikipedia photo

Do you have a favorite city park?

I remember the parks of my childhood, Winthrop and Myers in Tallahassee, Florida; Nelson and Fairview in Decatur, Illinois; and Golden Gate in San Francisco.

If you’re a New Yorker, perhaps Central Park or Union Square Park or Bryant Park fits your style. In Boston, perhaps you stroll about the Boston Commons.  In San Francisco, you may like Mission Dolores Park–I do, I once had an apartment next to it. Forest Park in St. Louis has a lot to offer as does Griffith Park in Los Angeles.

Forest Park, St. Louis - "Help sustain Forest Park as it sustains us all."  - Forest Park Forever
Forest Park, St. Louis – “Help sustain Forest Park as it sustains us all.” – Forest Park Forever

Many of us enjoy little pocked parks whose names aren’t well known outside their neighborhoods. Some of them are great for lunch with business associates; others appeal to dog owners and their pets; and some feature swings and green space for children.

Every time I receive a copy of “land + people,” the publication of the Trust for Public Land, I smile. Why? This magazine is a celebration of parks. New Parks being created. The latest innovations. Spotlights on trends and recent park ideas.

Some people criticize parks because they cost money, attract noise and/or “the wrong kind of people,” or create headaches when those who built them cannot afford to maintain them.

Griffith Park, Los Angeles - Wikipedia photo
Griffith Park, Los Angeles – Wikipedia photo

Aside from quality of life (as in beauty, play and relaxation), parks generally increase nearby property values, reduce hardscape, aid wildlife and increase the city’s tree canopy. Or, as the Trust for Public Land puts it, “We believe that everyone should have the opportunity to connect with nature. And as research clearly shows, access to nature is an essential prescription for the physical, environmental, social, and economic health of a community.”

I recently saw a link on Facebook to doctors who were prescribing time in a park for some of their patients. Many of the comments were along the lines of “about time.” Unlike some of the medications we’re given, park addiction is a habit we can live with. We’re hard pressed to live without it.

The current issue of “land + people” includes a photograph from Knight’s Pond in Cumberland, Maine, of a boy in old clothes walking along the shoreline with a net. The cutline reads, “Dragonflies and salamanders, fish and frogs–who knows what the day’s exploration will turn up. Every kid needs a place to discover the natural word.”

I like that. It reminds me of long childhood days. And it reminds me, too, that discovery of the natural world leads to respect.

–Malcolm

Malcolm R. Campbell is the author of “Conjure Woman’s Cat,” a 1950s-era novella set in the piney woods of the Florida Panhandle he discovered as a child. Thank you all for your support of this book:

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On Location: in St. Louis for a Ghost Story

Forest Park
Forest Park

While working on a ghost story set in St. Louis for an anthology of Missouri stories, I had to face three realities:  (1) I hadn’t been in St. Louis for a long time, (2) I didn’t have a budget that would allow me to rent a plane and fly up there to do research, (3) My setting had to be believable to people who lived in St. Louis.

The story features a modern-day student and a a real historical figure, Patience Worth, channeled years ago by Peal Curran. I was vaguely aware of Patience Worth and the sensation she created a century ago as she turned out books and poems that were quite well received.

I knew what I wanted the story to do. But I needed to familiarize myself with the writings of Patience Worth so that my ghost in the story sounded like the “real” spirit. Fortunately, her writings are accessible on the Internet, and a kind expert in the subject gave me many wonderful pointers.

Settings

The Skinker-DeBaliviere neighborhood.
The Skinker-DeBaliviere neighborhood.

While it was crucial to “get Patience right,” the settings were also important. It took a while for me to nail down whether the house where Pearl Curran channeled Patience was still standing. Once I found it, it didn’t take long to discover a picture of it using Google’s Street View. I also looked at the adjacent streets in the historic neighborhood where the house still stands.

While I don’t reveal the address of the house in the story, I needed to see it online so that when my young, modern-say protagonist drives down the street, she’ll see something that not only is real, but that sounds real to anyone who knows the area.

Kennedy Forest

spiritsanthologyNear the historic house is Kennedy Forest, a part of the city’s Forest Park, the seventh largest munipal park in the nation. While there are a lot of pictures and descriptions online and while Google Street View showed me what it looked like, a forester helped me make sure I had the tree types correct. Why? I wanted my character to go to that forest and see what is really there.

I also found major streets so that my character could drive from the Patience Worth house to the park on real streets with accurate descriptions. The descriptions add ambiance to the story and bring the real setting into believable focus.

A lot has been written about Patience Worth, the historic district where the channeling too place, and the nearby landmarks. All of this greatly helps a writer while s/he is working on a story set in a town s/he hasn’t seen for a while. The age of the house and the park fit my needs perfectly: I wanted something very old to appear in a modern world, and the locale itself helped me tell my story “Patience, I Presume.”

My approach is always to research settings and subject matter extensively and then let the story tell iself once I’ve immersed myself into the time and place where it unfolds. If you’re a writer, you probably approach your stories quite differently. We never know when we think of a story what we’ll need to do to get it down on the page the way we imagine it. I start with my atunement to place and work outward from there.

You May Also Like: How I Researched a Ghost Story – Filed under “writing tips,” this provides a step-by-step approach to the online research that worked for me.

Malcolm