The Parks That Connect Us

I have always loved parks. Growing up in a park-filled town, there were always places to fly kites and play ball. Good, safe parks gave us opportunities to run, explore, and play freely… as all kids should. We were very blessed.

Today, I am lucky to live near one of St. Paul’s most expansive and historic parks — Como Park. For my husband and me, it’s a favorite Sunday destination. We often walk around the lake or through the beautiful  gardens, admiring water birds and wildflowers, babies and bikers, taking in each season.

One of the things that delights me most about this special park is that everyone seems to be there — people of all ages and backgrounds — newcomers, old-comers, big boisterous families, couples holding hands, solitary wanderers, women in colorful hijab, people speaking English, Hmong, Spanish, Somali… elders, toddlers, teens. The whole community! Como, like every city park, belongs to all of us. It’s wonderful and welcoming. When I’m there I feel connected. I know others feel it, too.

From A PARK CONNECTS US; Owlkids Books, 2022. Ilustration by Ellen Rooney

Importantly, Como and all our beautiful parks connect us to nature as well. They give city people the fresh air and green space we all need to feel happy. As an apartment dweller, I spend parts of many days walking in the parks closer to my home. Sometimes, I sit on benches to watch for muskrats, herons, frogs, and ducklings. Sometimes I meander through the trees. The parks remind me to breathe, to look at the sky, to feel my feet on the Earth, to listen. I rely on parks to keep me whole in all sorts of ways. 

From A PARK CONNECTS US; Owlkids Books, 2022. Ilustration by Ellen Rooney

However, parks do much more than feed our spirits. Parks help the health of our city ecosystems in a great many important and underappreciated ways. They buffer and protect streams, lakes, rivers, and marshes, allow native plants and trees the space to flourish, absorb carbon dioxide and release fresh, clean oxygen, and provide habitat for birds and wildlife.

Thus, A PARK CONNECTS US evolved in my mind over years, beginning with my deep appreciation for parks and expanding to include the unanswered questions that often occurred to me while walking, like: “Who made our parks?” and “How (in cities that are largely divided into private parcels) did parks and park systems even happen?”

Learning the history of the urban parks movement in North America — a movement launched in the late 1800s — was profoundly inspiring to me. History is full of stories that dishearten, but the story of our city parks is overall a story of sharing — sharing beauty, resources, neighborhoods, and nature. It’s a story of love of place and of community. I’m delighted that I get to share some of this history with my readers in A PARK CONNECTS US.

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