The latest chapter in the saga of Wisner Playground across the street from our house has been chaining and locking the ball field entrance gates.
The playground takes up an entire city block. When we first moved to this house years ago it was maintained intermittently, overgrowing between cuttings as though it was a vacant lot even with a ball field and basketball court fenced within. A children’s playground with non-functioning swing sets, a long-since-used wading pool and a pavilion whose open ceiling allowed it to host a large colony of pigeons completed the park’s complement.
In that condition, the park also hosted groups of young men who utilized the metal bleachers across the street from our house as a site for transactions of certain goods not normally sold through regular retail outlets.
All that blew away with Katrina in 2005, although it’s been a gradual process. The next year, authorities built a trailer site on the ball field, hauling in underlayment and building sewer, water and electrical infrastructure for 33 small trailers. They were brought in to house the city’s essential government workers displaced by the storm. Armed security guards monitored everyone who entered the park.
When the trailers were removed several years later, contractors came in, removed all the pipes, electrical service connections and finally the underlayment. Eventually, the park was mostly rebuilt — new fences, new ball field and security lights, a new Kaboom playground for kids and grass once again on the ball field.
With good fences, the ball field soon became a de factor dog park where dog owners could bring their animals and let them run loose. Soon everyone from miles around who needed to loose their dogs was attracted to the place. That went well except for the ball players who couldn’t keep their eyes on the fly balls they were trying to catch for fear of stepping (or worse, sliding) in something left behind by a dog.
Soon heads were butting, police would occasionally ride up and yell at dog owners. Dog owners will occasionally yell back, we learned.
Finally there was a big neighborhood meeting with much nah-nahhing and from that came a compromise that was supposed to take everybody’s wishes into consideration. From part of the ball field and part of the play area they carved a narrow space for a loose dog run. Entrance was provided on both ends by sally ports.
The trouble was that all those dogs that formerly ran in the big space were now confined to a much smaller space. There are occasionally conflicts over who is the big dog. The conflicts are not always limited to canines.
But life moved on. The ball park area soon attracted weekly games of kickball from young adults who spilled out of area bars. Parents with kids would practice baseball, soccer and football in small groups. There was much spontaneous use each afternoon and evening. It also attracted dog owners whose animals were not suited for the closer confines of the designated area, and we think that prompted the recent lockdown. The parks department’s response to the infractions of a few closed access to many more who were using the park for exactly what is was intended.
The gates are chained and there is a sign giving a phone number to call for use of the park. The signs and chains went up about three months ago. Since then, the only people we’ve seen inside the park are the contract maintenance crews who come at least once a week to mow the grass and trim the edges. Most of the time the ball field sits there, pristine and vacant.
And there are a few ambitious interlopers like the trio of young adults who have come to the ball field this weekend. Twice we watched as they lay on their backs and slid under clearance left between the vehicle gate and the ground beneath. They kicked their ball back and forth for about an hour and then left the same way they’d come.