As the Charleston Parks Conservancy participated in a public process regarding the future of three underutilized facilities at Hampton Park, I noticed a curious paradox.
On the one hand, speaker after speaker — and even an editorial in this newspaper — referred to Hampton Park as a passive park.
Indeed, there are areas of beauty and tranquility in Hampton Park that allow park visitors space for quiet contemplation. One can easily understand why so many see Hampton Park as passive.
And yet, on the other hand, it is a fact is that Hampton Park is one of the City of Charleston’s most active parks.
It has recreational fields for baseball, soccer and other vigorous activities, playgrounds for active kids, well-used basketball courts, a bandstand, lagoon and other areas of the park that hosted more than 150 permitted events during 2014 — more than any other park in the city. At any one time, especially on weekends, there might be numerous events happening simultaneously in Hampton Park. Some are permitted and organized, while others are more spontaneous.
How is it possible that one of the city’s most actively used parks is considered by many of its most frequent users to be a passive park?
The answer is simple: Hampton Park is a great public space.
Great public spaces can do many things at once, and do them all well. Great parks like Hampton Park offer a diversity of users a diversity of experiences, rather than a single kind of experience for a single kind of user.
Hampton Park is 63 acres, the largest on the peninsula. Some go there seeking quiet respite. Others go seeking active, joyful and boisterous experiences. Hampton Park is large enough, and great enough, to accommodate them all.
And it does it in such a way that each citizen who goes there believes that the park offers a place for them, to use in the way they want to use it, without infringing on the experience of others who come there for different reasons.
This is what great parks do.
We know that Charleston is a great city. Great cities have great parks. Great cities like Charleston not only have great parks, but they are defined by their shared public spaces.
The Charleston Parks Conservancy exists because parks and public spaces are critically important in the civic life of our city. We exist to help our citizens invest as much pride and energy into our shared public spaces as we do into our private gardens and historic architecture.
Parks make our cities stronger when they bring people together, without regard to class, race, religion, gender, age, or socioeconomic status.
Everyone should have the opportunity to enjoy and participate in our public parks.
The Charleston Parks Conservancy’s lease with the City for three facilities in Hampton Park covers just less than three acres.
We plan to build a beautiful garden where none now exists, for those citizens who want a more serene, passive experience.
We will offer a café for those seeking lively conversation with their friends and neighbors over a sandwich, a milkshake, a cup of coffee, or a glass of wine, in a setting second to none.
We will design a community center for those who want a place for organized community events, meetings, family reunions, and joyful events like weddings.
All of these uses are consistent with Hampton Park’s long history as an actively used public space. And some of these activities will generate funds that will be reinvested in Charleston’s parks, helping us make our shared public spaces even more beautiful and even more loved, all over the city.
The remainder of Hampton Park, more than 60 acres of it, will continue to offer citizens exactly what it offers them now: a beautiful and spacious park that lets them be who they want to be, enjoy what they like to enjoy, and do it in a wonderful, stunning and unique public space that belongs to every citizen of the City of Charleston.
Harry Lesesne is executive director of the Charleston Parks Conservancy.