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Fairlawn face-lift debated

Waterbury Republican-American, Wednesday, August 10, 2005
by Joe Palladino

It has come down to this; a disagreement over a basketball court.

Some folks don't want one. Other folks do. Let the debate begin.

Fairlawn Park is the quintessential neighborhood park. Barely more than an acre, it is a blink-and-you-miss-it kind of space. There is a basketball court there, and a playground. It is a space designed for a neighborhood.

Fairlawn is set to receive a face-lift of approximately $200,000. The East End Community Club has set up meetings where residents compiled a list of ideas for the park. They'd like a playscape, a spraypool, a fountain, repairs to fences and sidewalks, better lighting and more effective patrolling of the park.

Nowhere on the list turned in to the Park Board is there mention of a basketball court.

The neighbors are tired of crime and vandalism at the park. When the sun sets all manner of unlawful activities takes place. They see basketball as part of the problem. They fear that the park has become a basketball destination, a destination for undesirables.

They want the renovation on a scale to fit the space. In other words, small. That means no basketball court. You can appreciate the thinking. If the play area is designed for little ones, the big ones will take their ball and their mischief and go somewhere else.

Tuesday night the Park Board heard from the other side. The basketball players gave their reply. Led by former Fairlawn resident and city basketball star, and a member of the New England Basketball Hall of Fame, attorney Joe Summa has volunteered to serve as an advocate for the basketball players who use the park. Summa delivered more than 50 signed petitions to the park commissioners, from both players and neighbors. They wish for the court to stay.

Now that the two sides have presented their ideas, it is time for an official jump-ball. That comes Sept 6., the next meeting of the Park Board. Anticipating a passionate gathering, the board will suspend the usual meeting of the greens committee and allow the recreation committee a full hour, from 5-6 p.m., so that the citizens can have their say.

Waterburians are blessed to have the park system we do. Every neighborhood has its space. Virtually ever kid in town can walk to a recreational site. It was done for a reason. A park is a good place for kids. A park attracts the active and the motivated, the next wave of community leaders. A park is where kids go to play and grow and learn.

In short, the kids on court are at the opposite end of the behavioral spectrum from the thugs. Good parks make good neighbors, I thought, and good parks grow good kids.

If they didn't why would we build them?

Sports are part of the solution. It gives kids a reason to be something other than a burden on society. But now, for the first time in my recollection, we think a sport, basketball, is part of the problem.

No it isn't, not now, not ever.

Anyone who lives alongside or near a city park knows the problem, and I am in that category. We want thugs and punks out of our neighborhoods. But someone will have to explain to me in greater detail how the removal of a basketball court achieves that goal.

Does basketball bring trouble to Fairlawn? Is the basketball court to blame? Hardly. There are many other social forces at work. The game has nothing to do with it.

The Park Board has not picked a final design for Fairlawn Park. They may lack the funds to repair the court. An economic decision we can live with. A decision based on the premise that a basketball court is the root cause of delinquency is another matter.

Yes it is a small park, but big things can happen in small spaces, there is room to romp, room to climb, room to splash, and even room to shoot some hoops.

A basketball court is not a villain, and the kids who play on it are not the problem.

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