A Week at a Park

A Week at a park

I chose to spend a week observing a local park. Unfortunately, no one ever visited it longer than a few minutes, so I spent more time observing the ground than the people.

Below are my findings and experiences of this small park located in Richmond, Virginia.

Patrick Henry Park was created as a memorial for Patrick Henry who gave his famous “Give me liberty, or give me death” speech across the street at St. John’s Church. The church was established in 1741, the speech made in 1775, and the park created in the 1940s.

It sits across the street from the church, a fire station, and an old bank. Down the road is a pie shop along with an elementary school and various homes. Since it only takes up half a block, it also backs up to some apartments and a small restaurant. 

However, the park is, for the most part, left alone. People walk past it as if it’s nonexistent. Almost as if the park was replaced with a plain wall on all sides that people never looked at because there was nothing to see.

A few may pass along the edges of the park in order to shave a few seconds off their commute from one place to another, or quickly take their dog out for a bathroom break. But generally, no one enters.

There were clues that people had visited before scattered around the park. Candy wrappers near a bench, a beer can hidden in a bush, and some lottery tickets thrown on the ground. People had left small trails of trash that showed who had been there and what they were doing.

There were plenty of trashcans around the park, however they weren’t utilized. Forty-seven different types of trash could be found around this park that occupies half a block. Many of these things could easily have been placed in the trash receptacles, but for some reason, people seemed to prefer using the ground.

The items ranged from a pink plastic spoon and paper plates to a hay bale and lottery tickets. All the items hinted to the fact that someone had been at the park previously and gave an idea of what they had been doing, but it was unclear when or if they would be back.

Most of the trash was food related and pointed to people spending time at the park to take a moment and enjoy a meal. A styrofoam plate, coffee cups, the wrapper for a Moonpie, a straw: all relating back to people taking the time to eat at the park. There was even a Guinness cup left over from the Irish festival that takes place near the park each March.

Some trash was relaxation related. There were quite a few cigarettes around the park, as well as a collection of lottery tickets and a joint that appeared one morning after someone had seemingly spent the evening hoping to win some money. Even a newspaper and some newspaper clippings were found floating around the park from day to day, once having been someone’s reading material for an afternoon.

However, some pieces of trash were very particular to one instance, so much so that some things could not even be determined as to why they were there. Red plastic shards littered one corner of the park where someone had, seemingly, broken a tail light by crashing into one of the older trees, although there were no marks to be seen on the tree. There was a red plank of wood hidden under a bush that did not match any of the benches or decorations around the park. Perhaps it had come from a bench many years ago? Meanwhile, only a few feet away from the plank, a square hay bale sat slowly rotting away next to a picnic table. There was even an insurance payment found rolled up in a back corner of the park that appeared one night and disappeared the next.

There were also a few pieces that showed there had once been a real interest in the park. For instance, there was a cement cat that sat near the back of the park as if crouching behind a tree. Although its original intent had likely not been to become a form of trash, after years of neglect it had turned into just that. The cat's purpose had changed from a silent guardian to an omen of decay as its white and orange paint chipped off to show the gray texture beneath. Following a similar life cycle, there was also a small, old staircase and some planters that appeared to lead previous park goers over a short fence in the wall of the park that connected to an alleyway.

But nowadays, people paid the park little mind when stopping by or passing through. Evenso, the park still took note of each person by their trash. The trash scattered around seemed to be an informal scrapbook that the park kept to keep track of visitors.

However, by exposing its history and visitor’s log to the world, it created a terrible feedback loop. People did not visit because the park was dirty, so the park’s department did not put money in it to clean it, so it became dirtier and people continued to not visit, and so on.

The park could not grow; it could only stagnate and hold on to the precious memories of those who had taken a moment to visit, chocking itself in the process. This could even be seen in the ancient trees overhead who’s branches had began to rot and disintegrate from years of being ignored. It was fascinating to see trash used as the main form of communication, but it was also extremely sad.

I spent a week at a park that no one likes, few visit, and most ignore. I spent a week talking with it and examining the clues it had left for someone to discover. I realized that the clues were not a testament to the people who had visited, but an SOS that had never been answered. However, time had changed this cry for help. It had grown to become a timeline, or record of the past for the park, a past that was likely its future. A future filled with deterioration, rot, and lots of trash.