Anyone know a kid who plays soccer?
Now raise your hand if your child’s game has ever been cancelled to protect a muddy field.
How about a wave from a parent who has nervously watched a little one dodge a gopher hole – or worse yet, land in one.
In San Francisco, and cities across America, we face a dearth of available high quality recreation space. And the fields we do have are often rendered unusable by the elements, intrusive rodents or maintenance cycles over which we have limited – and sometimes no – control.
We need more athletic fields, not only for the children of our cities, but for all sports enthusiasts participating in a multitude of evening and week-end rec leagues throughout urban America.
Fortunately in our foggy hometown, we have a solution which comes in the form of City Fields, a non-profit organization dedicated to renovating existing fields with a new generation of synthetic turf that is playable year-round, level, affordable and easy to maintain.
As you can imagine, the word “synthetic” is not a favorite of mine.
So of course, my initial reaction was to doubt the safety and environmental sanctity of these proposed installations.
Where is the data about what these fields might off-gas to my little heavy-breathing soccer star? What might leech into our groundwater from the materials in these “grasses?” What about staph infections lurking in the matting? And well, one must always worry about where the worms will have to relocate when their muddy territory is compromised.
Never mind that it’s good enough for the athletes at Stanford and Cal to play on these same surfaces, we are talking about MY kids playing in “MY” park, which is essentially our backyard.
So like any self-respecting enviro-neruotica mama, I set up a meeting with the new GM of our Recreation and Park Department, Phil Ginsburg, to get his take on the issue. As you can imagine, for all the reasons listed above, he is all for building these next-gen sports surfaces.
But what’s interesting to me is that if they get it wrong, he has the most to lose. Imagine the political fall-out. Imagine the personal responsibility one might feel for not properly caretaking our precious green spaces, which include one of the crown jewels of our nation’s city park system. Imagine watching one’s own children play sports on a field that could compromise their health.
Our GM seemed ready and more than willing to endorse this effort because he trusts the data that supports it. And knowing that I’d want to see it, he sent me to City Fields to learn for myself.
I was over my skis once again pretending to be a toxicology expert. Notebook ready, I dug into every question that I could think of, referencing articles I had read about troubles in other cities, alternate infill options, pesticide reduction, water use and the impact of heat on synthetic materials. Scintillating stuff.
And there was a satisfactory answer for EVERYTHING. Turns out, I’m just one pesky mom amidst a cacophony of highly educated, visibly empowered residents who share my concerns – or may simply feel compelled to stand up for the embattled gopher community.
Whatever their motivation, naysayers have had an opportunity to speak up and City Fields has responded with research, with persistence and with its gracious offer to fulfill a mission to provide enough space “so every San Francisco child has a place to play.”
Sitting on my desk is a pile 2 inches high of scientific research exploring the potential environmental impact of these fields. It’s probably a lot more data than most communities would require from a commercial venture that is guaranteed to leave a far greater trail of destruction in its wake.
The founders of City Fields, the Fisher brothers, are all fathers and native San Franciscans. It is in their blood to give back to their community. There is no commercial agenda attached to their philanthropic effort. I truly believe that they, and their supporters, genuinely care about the quality of what their organization proposes to build for our children and all citizens who enjoy exercising and playing outdoors.
A few of these next-gen fields now dot neighborhoods throughout our town. But the BIG vote on whether to move forward with the renovations at the Beach Chalet happens next week on January 21st at the Recreation and Park Commission meeting.
With no glaring red flags waving in the off-shore breezes, I want to turn our focus on the upside to this story – to begin with, fighting obesity with exercise, saving six million gallons of water a year, wiping clean our deficit of playing fields and sending less pesticide to seep into the glorious Pacific.
Come on fellow soccer moms – and dads, fellow green moms – and dads. Join me in supporting the only synthetics I can imagine championing in 2010.
As with anything important in my life, once the analysis is complete I head straight for my gut. And on this one, my gut truly does say that this is a risk worth taking. Let’s play ball!
Email your support of City Fields to the Recreation and Park Commission now! firstname.lastname@example.org