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Taylor Hawes

Credit: Taylor Hawes

If there’s one thing I love about Penn, it’s heading down Locust Walk into the heart of campus and being (almost) surrounded by real grass and real trees. It’s the closest I can get to nature in the urban glitz and grime that is Philly. Don’t get me wrong — I’m a city girl at heart. But everyone needs a good tree hug every now and then.

So when I first heard about Penn Park, almost two years ago now, I was incredibly excited. Twenty-four acres of green right by the river sounded like exactly what our campus needed. I heard phrases like “recreational environment” and “open space,” and I started imagining — well, a park. My imaginary park had benches and green spaces and walkways and lovely river views. It was a place to breathe fresh air, take a stroll or a run to unwind during finals and just generally relax on some grass.

Maybe that’s why I’m so disappointed with the actual Penn Park. Sure, there are green spaces and walkways. There are also 12 tennis courts, 3 multipurpose sports fields and an awful lot of emphasis on athletic priority. I respect student-athletes quite a bit; there’s no way I could do what many of them do, with hours of daily practice and away-game travel interfering with class and schoolwork.

The park is huge, but it is dominated by the sports fields. The pathways that wind through them seem to mostly serve the purpose of connecting the fields. Upon stepping into the park, it becomes clear that the space is dedicated to serve a purpose — to provide a space for organized games, and not for simple lounging. It’s not so much a park as a collection of fields.

But Penn Park was presented more as a recreational expansion to campus and something that would benefit all of us than just a gift specifically for athletic teams. Had I known and expected the park to be more stadium than garden, I probably wouldn’t care much. The park was so well-publicized as a recreational land use for the entire community and as a campus connection to Center City. But now that it’s here and I realize it’s more of a place to bring a pair of cleats than a book, I can’t help but feel a bit left out.

Penn Park is a great addition to campus in general and a good way to use the dead land that was previously there, and it’s probably very true that the athletes need more space. I just hoped the space would more fairly share the green between the athletes and us laggards too. The recreational green spaces that aren’t specifically designated to a field seem to be a second thought, a last-minute use of leftover land.

“I can definitely see that it is targeted toward the athletic community,” Wharton junior Marko Vucetic said. “But I don’t think they’ve forgotten about the lay-students.”

To be fair, there are some patches of grass that I guess would be suitable for plopping down in the sunshine with a book. And if I’m really craving clean air, there’s always Morris Arboretum (if you haven’t been, I highly recommend it). I suppose I could just give in to the peer pressure, join a team and start using the park to its full intent. On second thought… maybe I better start looking for that lazy patch of grass.

Taylor Hawes is a College junior from Philadelphia. Her email address is Tattle-Taylor appears every other Friday.

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