This is the final piece of a three part series on the importance of recreational spaces in cities. These three short pieces about three different cities discuss the importance of play and relaxation spaces from three perspectives: first from the perspective of a father, then from the perspective of a mother, and now, from the perspective of a grandmother.
The Square on Pac Street
Every day of the week Ms. Barbara, wearing a parka against the autumn cold, climbs the four flights of stairs to my Grandma Fila’s apartment, helps her put on an overcoat, and takes my grandmother for a walk (unless it is raining). Ms. Barbara has an optimistic personality and gently sweeps away any negativity as she takes Grandma Fila’s arm into her own and negotiates with her a route down to the outside world. When they arrive on the dimly-lit ground floor near the ancient set of postal boxes, she opens the door and the world sweeps in on a breeze.
The two women follow the sidewalk along the courtyard and walk through a passageway that brings them to Kickiego Street. They do not hurry. The sidewalk can be uneven and slick; each step must be firmly planted onto the ground.
Ms. Barbara and Grandma Fila turn left and walk towards the Square on Pac Street. Their journey takes only a few minutes. As if by magic, the dense socialist realist housing blocks fade away, revealing several hundred square meters of open skies interspersed with earthen beds that grow aromatic roses, shrubs, and little golden flowers. Paths with benches, oaks and other trees transform the square into a natural oasis. On warm days people from the neighborhood meet on these benches for fresh air and conversations about their daily lives.
Ms. Barbara and Grandma Fila decide to sit on one of the benches. Immediately, Fila’s mind turns to memories from half a century ago when she notices the column-lined portico of the school that her two daughters attended in the earliest years of their lives. Now these two daughters are themselves approaching retirement.
Grandma Fila moved into her one bedroom apartment in this neighborhood called Grochow with her husband and two daughters in the mid 1950s. Here she has grown old with her neighbors. They raised their children together, shared their triumphs and heartaches with each other, and with sadness watched loved ones die.
When Grandma Fila and her family moved to Grochow, crews of men and women were still working intensely on rebuilding Warsaw from the near total destruction that the German Army wrought upon the city towards the end of World War II. The crews cleared thousands of tons of rubble and erected houses of thick concrete that, like Grandma Fila’s building, still remind me of impregnable military fortresses.
With nearly ninety years of memories, it becomes easy for Grandma Fila to drift through time to events from her past. In the nearby University of Warsaw dormitories, students from Poland and abroad live in the moment and plan for what is in their eyes a seemingly boundless future. Grandma Fila lovingly watches these young people on her outings with Ms. Barbara and embraces their enthusiasm for what is yet to come.
Recreational spaces like the Square on Pac Street help Grandma Fila and other seniors reminisce and interact with each other. It is important for the mental wellbeing of all seniors to socialize and feel that they are integral to the world around them. Older folks who may have mobility issues cannot stay at home all day. They need a nearby recreational space to help give greater purpose to their day.