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Parks are central to the soul of a city - and to its citizens' souls as well

Sunday, January 24, 1999

By Barbara Cloud

With all that is going on in the world, perhaps repairing a retaining wall or rebuilding a pair of steps, enhancing a gothic angel on a fountain, studying bug species or preserving plant life and shade trees doesn't count for much.

But it should. The value of these things, found in our parks, can't be measured in structure and eventual revenue like the proposed stadiums and department stores now on drawing boards.

Feed the soul, that's what a walk in the park can do.

Every city needs a park, and we have at least four in dire need of repair

in order to promise our children and their children the privilege of sitting on green grass, enjoying leisure time and observing nature in the serene surroundings a park can offer.

Pittsburgh Parks Conservancy wants all of us always to have our parks - Frick, Riverview, Highland and Schenley. Its purpose is based primarily on the theme "making the grass greener in our own back yard."

I attended a meeting at the Frick Art and Historical Center recently, and I so admire what this new group plans to do. I especially liked what Charles Jordan, director of Oregon Parks and Recreation, said: "Parks are the most democratic spaces in the city."

You can't help but think of Manhattan.

Without Central Park, residents would either have left the metropolis or

jumped off the bridges or tops of skyscrapers in total frustration . A park, undoubtedly, can erase the tension of our everyday existence. Simply put, a park enhances quality of life.

And yet each time I view a science fiction flick or go back to Flash Gordon comics, I wonder where all the greenery has gone.

They suggest that, in the next century, there will be no parks, no walks around a reservoir, no possibility of seeing the play of light on water, a blanket spread under a chestnut tree.

The wonder of Central Park is enormous in what it means to the residents of such a city as New York, so it seems per fect that our Parks Conservancy is patterned after the Central Park Conservancy, which is two-thirds into a $100 million restoration begun 20 years ago.

Elizabeth Barlow Rogers, founder of the New York conservancy, remarked that in the beginning "we had nothing but a few guys with trash stabbers."

"From little acorns" is what comes to mind.

Pittsburghers need to take a look at the parks we frequent. We need to take

pride in them, but we need to be aware of crumbling stone and decrepit fountains, overgrown trails and litter that can take the sparkle out of these gems.

When a group of primarily well-heeled women get together over coffee and danish, surrounded by works of art and sheltered in a place named Frick, is there not the notion among some of us that this is, perhaps, simply a fine way to kill a Wednesday morning?

Why should they care if the parks go to ruin?

Well, fortunately for all of us, they do care, and many of them are

involved in re vitalizing our precious green spaces. They are on the bandwagon, and they are enlisting other interested citizens to get the job done.

What really made me marvel as Isat in the auditorium at Frick were the old photographs showing families who used parks as places to meet and greet others, dressed in their Sunday best, out for a stroll or to admire the gardens so beautifully laid out, like intricately designed carpets.

Parks are needed now more than ever as our lives have become so fast-paced, far more stressful than those days of bustles and parasols, spats and straw boaters.

Look for some upcoming events, particularly a luncheon benefit on the lawn at the Frick in May that should bring out well-hatted women (and men) who want to make sure the balance of nature means Pittsburgh will always have its parks.

We're not talking baseball or football here, but these parks are equally as important. Maybe more so.

Without parks in our city, where we sense the miracle of nature with each visit, we merely exist. We don't really live.

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