The Daily Item, Sunbury, PA

March 7, 2013

Midd-West Moment: Protect our parks

By John Zaktansky
The Daily Item

— Who needs sexual education in schools when we have local playgrounds?

Everything a child needs to know about the birds and the bees can be learned from the vulgar graffiti etched into the plastic equipment found in parks all over the Valley, right?

During a recent trip with my three-year-old daughter to Charles Park in Middleburg, I was amazed/appalled/disgusted by the comments, symbols and even pictures that were carved into the equipment. Inside one slide, I was instructed to call a specific phone number "for a good time" and read a comment that seemed to imply that two people had sex at that very spot, on curve one of the green spiral tube slide. At various random places around the small playground, swear words were hidden as if someone set up a live-action word hunt for a Profanity 101 vocab exercise.

It is hard to fathom why kids today fail to grow out of the egocentric phase that most adolescents used to grow out of when they hit junior high. There once was a time when kids realized that the world did not revolve around them and that part of growing up meant taking time to consider other people's feelings, values and rights. Now, in a "me-first" culture, it seems that many young people feel it is their right to do what they want, whenever it feels good.

There are many people who are pro-graffiti, saying that it is an art form that lets people express themselves. Today more than ever, I agree that people need to vent their feelings and frustrations. Art is a great way to do this -- just not when it destroys other people's property or when it is imposed on others. Also, the stuff that is carved into playground equipment all over the Valley is about as artistic as the stuff they pump out of my septic tank.

On the Charles Park sign the other week, in black spray paint, was the word "LiFe". As my daughter and I took a short walk around the duck pond, we noticed a similar marking on the back of a metal sign near the water. This, I've learned, is called a "tag." Allegedly, people feel the need to leave behind a mark, much (I'm assuming) like a male dog likes to mark his territory. In some cases, this can be traced back to gang-related behavior, and could indicate an issue much more severe than property destruction. Yet, a playground is not created for self-absorbed teenagers to claim as territory, but instead belongs to young children of the community.

So how can we protect our parks/playgrounds and the children who love to play there? Some suggest we build fences around parks, and I have to admit that fences work well when I want to keep unwanted animals out of my garden. Yet, while many rabbits and groundhogs may have better grammar than those who carve playground equipment, I would think that we hold the youth of our society in higher regard.

The Surgeon General and numerous studies have proven that smoking is harmful, including to those who inhale second-hand smoke. Yet, a number of people were quick to light up a cigarette anywhere they felt like it, regardless of who was downwind or dining at an adjacent table. So, the government set up smoking/nonsmoking areas. Is that a possibility for our parks -- to set up designated areas where people could express themselves through graffiti, while leaving other areas clean and safe for children to play in?

As a general citizen of the area and a lover of the outdoors, I think it is sad that people can't go to the local parks and playgrounds and simply enjoy nature. As a taxpayer, it is disgusting to know that a portion of the money I earn needs to be spent cleaning up the mess of those who don't respect the outdoors. As a parent, I find it sad and a little scary that even a trip to what should be a safe place to play instead exposes my daughter to the ugliness of people who don't respect others.

Whatever the solution, it is time to act.

Email comments to jzaktansky@dailyitem.com