The assault on open space

CENTRAL PARK in New York City offers recreational space in an otherwise crowded city (Shinya Suzuki/Flickr).

Where do the children play?

That’s the title of a pop music song from the Seventies, but it’s also a quiet crisis that’s bad and bound to get a lot worse.

Recent decisions made in Sacramento that may have started with good intentions seem likely to create a kind of park-and-play desert in many communities. Probably ours.

Here’s the sitch. Many Orange County communities are “under-parked,” which means there’s not enough open recreational space to accommodate the population. In The Tribune’s coverage area, that includes Garden Grove, Stanton and Westminster.

Those three cities grew so quickly – and incorporated so late – in the post World War II era that parks were too few, too small and too much a low priority. Huntington Beach, which sprawls over a huge area and developed a decade later, is the exception.

For a while, the lack of open space was mitigated by access to the schoolyards that seem to be every few blocks. After classes were out, and during summer and weekends, kids could get pickup games of shirts and skins basketball, touch football and over-the-line baseball.

But recently that’s changed. Claiming issues with vandalism and facility conflicts with other organizations such as Boys & Girls Clubs, school systems have locked the gates on most elementary schoolyards.

Now comes the housing shortage, which contributes to high property values and rents and – arguably – the explosion of homelessness. In response to this, we have the move toward “accessory dwelling units” and “junior accessory dwelling units” which plunk small new houses in backyards all over West Orange County cities.

The beat goes on. New single-family housing developments are now built on tiny lots. The dog barely has enough room to turn around behind the house. To make things worse, cities have wimped out in not requiring a minimum amount of open space where such tracts are constructed.

Let’s ratchet up the pressure on green grass. A recent state law requires each city in California to zone for its “regional housing needs assessment,” creating the threat of having to build thousands of new residences in built-out communities. The end result? Denser housing with zero or little room to recreate.

More recently, the state legislature passed a bill allowing up to four new homes to be built on a lot zoned for a single-family house, dealing a potentially fatal blow to the typical suburban neighborhood.

We are in the midst of an epidemic of obesity, especially among kids. Diabetes – often tied to being overweight and underexercised – is rampant. Dialysis clinics are cropping up like liquor stores.

We are making a place to work up a sweat and relax under the shade of a tree a metaphorical endangered species. But here’s a question that’s not just theoretical.

Where do the children play?





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