Challenging decision

I’d like to challenge the recent decision by our city leadership to remove the basketball rims at Memorial Park, and offer an alternative solution. I understand the reason for the action drug use, vandalism and unruly behavior are unacceptable in any context. Furthermore, we have a fine Streets and Parks Department who work hard to keep our community in good shape, and it’s less than ideal for the added clean-up to be on their plate. I don’t dispute that the situation demands a response, but I think the decision to remove the basketball rims was a huge air ball.

The response doesn’t seem to have much to do with actually dealing with the root of the problem, and as such, I have little hope of any difference being made. It’s extremely rare that punishment like this produces lasting positive change, despite the seeming boost it gives to the rhetoric of being tough on crime.

Do we really believe making the basketball courts unusable will curb drug use or vandalism? At best, it’s relocating the problem for a few weeks. Where in this response are we discerning why the behavior is happening and how we can actually see behavior improved?

In “Song of the Open Road,” Walt Whitman wrote the line, “We convince by our presence.” If the bar is going to be raised for community park use, it won’t come by punishment or rhetoric, it will be through people showing up: getting to know park users personally, learning their stories, encouraging ownership of park resources, etc.

While awkward at first, there’s no doubt in my mind that consistent presence would bring a complete culture change in our neighborhoods. It would be nice to see city leadership (including the mayor, city council, police and other city officials) set the tone by their presence. Not for political gain, but because they truly have the heart for our community I believe they have.

And to the rest of our community, I certainly don’t think our city leaders are alone in this responsibility. We need to be just as intentional in being present!

Let’s take ownership of our neighborhood parks, spend time there and model good stewardship. Let’s build relationships with the people who make use of them and learn to be good neighbors. Let’s see if presence trumps punishment in making lasting change in Williamsport.

Spencer Sweeting


Submitted by Virtual Newsroom