This month, two important construction projects will happen in Flint. When these projects are finished, two neighborhood parks, Hasselbring and Broome, will each have brand new playgrounds.
No, these are not major commerce centers. We’re not talking about creating hundreds or even dozens of new jobs. But, the future impact of these two spaces could be monumental.
When I was a kid, an ARMY brat, my family lived in military housing complexes in Ludwigsburg, Germany, a couple of towns in Texas, and Indiana. Almost without fail, at the center of each complex was a large playground.
Monkey bars, slides, swings, teeter-totters, merry-go-rounds – the equipment varied a little, but the sense of security they offered me did not. The playground was my safe place.
Between my kindergarten and fourth grade school years, we moved around a lot. I was sort of an awkward kid, and I was also bullied in school quite a bit. But the playground was always my refuge.
While the other kids played kickball and rode bikes, I spent countless hours swinging, climbing, sliding and dreaming. I wrote my first poem sitting inside a giant stack of round pods that kind of looked like Swiss cheese. Sometimes, I would sit in one and pretend I was a great author. I even wrote a few stories during my time there.
I used to love to see how high I could swing, and wonder if I would ever be able to touch the sky. I wondered what held the sun, moon and stars up there. I felt like a bird – able to fly.
These may seem like small things; but to a kid, they are everything. I’m certain that if I went back to my old playground, high atop that hill in Germany, I would be astounded by how small the wonderland that seemed so vast actually was. I’m sure that hill would not be quite as tall as I remember it.
The reality is, playgrounds are much bigger than any of us probably know. They are little parcels created just for kids. They are meant for fun and play, and imagination. Yes, these new spaces in Flint will provide another venue for kids to get exercise and spend time outdoors. They will also spruce up the parks. But the real value is much greater than any of that.
When I was small, I needed the safety and security of a playground; I needed that refuge. Every child needs it. More than that, what I really needed was something that felt so much bigger than me, that felt like it was my own. I needed a place to wonder about stars, the sky, and how birds could fly. We all need that space … it’s the only way we can grow.