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I'm blessed to live in an older neighborhood of Fayetteville. Streets are lined out on a grid so that there are multiple ways of driving somewhere; maple trees reach across streets to touch one another; and when I go for walks, I can take a different route every day! Another fabulous aspect of this neighborhood is that I can walk to Wilson Park. During the Washington Elementary School tour of homes, I learned that the city of Fayetteville had considered purchasing the land where a home on the tour was for a park. At that time, the city only had funds to purchase land for one park, and they chose the "Wilson" property. Wilson Park is a wonderful park, but the land on Dickson Street with the spring and park-like setting is lovely, and it was difficult not to wish that there had been more funds for parks when Fayetteville was expanding during those early years.

The prices of homes in the older neighborhoods of Fayetteville go up every year, making homes unaffordable for most. In fact, home prices in Fayetteville in general are higher than most other communities in Northwest Arkansas. The population continues to grow in this part of our state, contributing to a healthy economy but requiring rapid expansion of our major cities -- particularly the expansion of residential neighborhoods into areas that were formerly fields.

Fayetteville, Springdale, Rogers, Bentonville and other smaller communities have prioritized resources to provide excellent sports-related parks in each community, contributing to opportunities for exercise and healthy lifestyles for the children of Northwest Arkansas whose parents can drive them to those parks. The trail system connecting city with city offers opportunities for all ages to bike and walk to stores, restaurants, parks and neighborhoods.

We're all growing so fast that it's hard to keep up, and its especially difficult to live into the values that our communities profess. In addition to being a pastor I serve on the city of Fayetteville's Planning Commission, so I know more about Fayetteville than the other cities nearby. Fayetteville's values and goals include prioritizing walkable neighborhoods, attainable housing and curbing urban sprawl that increases traffic congestion.

As a pastor on the Planning Commission, I appreciate the goals of the city, because for me it's a matter of justice. Every citizen of a community deserves to live in decent housing, have access to opportunities to support herself and her family, and be treated equitably in terms of city amenities. And that's where the fast growth comes in conflict with fairness. Just as the early decision-makers of the city of Fayetteville worked within their budget to ensure that citizens had a park that was easily accessible, today's elected officials have a responsibility to purchase, or accept, parkland in the new areas of the city before residential developments cover the landscape. And that can mean budgeting difficulties.

Those living in newer areas of town are no less deserving of parks that their children can walk to than those living in the older neighborhoods. I can drive to regional parks, but many children live in parts of the city where walking to a park after school isn't possible due to distance or streets too busy to cross. Children of families with limited financial resources most need parks within walking distance but are often those living furthest from them.

That's why I'm an advocate for neighborhood parks in every neighborhood of Fayetteville -- and every city. Jesus Christ is our model for treating people justly and teaching that in God's kingdom the poor are blessed and that the kingdom of heaven is theirs. For me, parks are a little piece of God's heaven. Parks need to be accessible -- meaning walkable -- to everyone in every neighborhood, the rich and the poor and everyone in between.

The Rev. Leslie Belden is a minister of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), currently serving as the temporary stated clerk of the Presbytery of Arkansas. Contact her at LeslieBeld@aol.com.

NAN Religion on 06/01/2019

Print Headline: Parks are little piece of heaven

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