Saturday, July 31, 2010

Regner Park turns 75: are parks socialist conspiracies?

Yes, they are -- and everyone likes them.

Saturday's column

Celebrating Regner and public parks
‘Thriller’ event shows how we re-create recreation

Parks were originally private enclosures of land set aside as hunting preserves for the aristocracy. The word “park” itself referred to the fencing that kept the peasants out. Today, park land is set aside for the recreation of the public, for us, the other 98 percent.

I’ve always thought that the word “recreation” contains the whole happy enchilada of what parks mean. Every wide-eyed 5-year-old has noticed that the word has two pronunciations and two definitions, and that these definitions overlap in a meaningful way. Parks are both recreational and re-creational. They divert our heads with fun and restore our souls with, well, something more.

Humans stand in a strange evolving relationship to parks.

Boundaries were originally set up to protect humans from nature – to keep out the lions and tigers and bears. As civilization grew and human populations swept out into every nook and cranny on the planet, we chased the Wild Things all the way to the horizon – and eventually caught them. By 1890, the year the U.S. census declared that our frontier was closed, our relationship to nature had spun 180 degrees.

It wasn’t too long afterward that Teddy Roosevelt got involved in the movement to establish national parks – in a reversal of human history, humans now set up boundaries, parks, in order to protect nature from humans.

City parks are an echo of this changed relationship. They are a cultivated wilderness where it’s safe for us to step back into a direct, if highly filtered, relationship with nature. Parks, whether deep and dangerous wilderness or the gardens and paths of a city park, continue to perform the function of putting us back into proper relation to nature and, somewhat more mysteriously, to ourselves – something every camper and hunter and weekend picnicker knows.

Wisconsin, and our little corner in particular, has a famous tradition of creating public parks. Milwaukee’s Sewer Socialists, who made Milwaukee work brilliantly through most of the 20th century, were born out of the labor movement’s crusade for that dangerous bit of anti-business socialism we now call the “eight-hour work day.” Scary, I know. And once they’d managed to infiltrate with this zany threat to the economic system, they turned their attention to other, so-called, “public necessities.” This included libraries, sewer and sanitation systems, public housing but also, and famously, public parks.

Regner Park, West Bend’s own public necessity, our local source for recreation and re-creation, turns 75 this summer.

Plans for the park were originally developed during World War I by Dr. W. J. Wehle, but it wasn’t until 1930 that Mayor Henry Regner and the city council spent $3,000 to buy the Goebel Woods to start the process. By 1934 the city was able to apply for funding assistance under the Federal and State Emergency Relief Administrations. After adding another 45 acres West Bend had spent about $22,000 along with $43,000 in federal assistance. Real money in those days.

Seventy-five years later we’re left with a beautiful legacy of public expense. Was it necessary?

This weekend’s events will celebrate all the ways people use the park to recreate themselves. You’ll be able to find a rock climbing wall, a display of military vehicles, McGruff the Crime Dog will be there with the West Bend Police Department, there will be yoga on the beach (hey, no tai chi?) and some of our local restaurants (like Poplar Place, Janulis, and Jaliscos) will be feeding people.

The organizers have also planned music everywhere and of every kind, from mariachis to polkas. The very first band concert, incidentally, was held on Aug. 8, 1935. Al Hron directed the Moose Band. I have not been able to find the program for that evening’s concert but the big hits in 1935 included “Cheek To Cheek,” “La Cucaracha,” “Anything Goes,” “I Get A Kick Out Of You” (still on my iPod) and “Easter Parade.”

Or you could try to break the world record for the number of people, and zombies, participating in a re-creation of Michael Jackson’s “Thriller.” The Thriller world record attempt, should you wish to see it or avoid it, will take place at 12:15 on Saturday afternoon. In an attempt to make this world record attempt even more thrillingly strange, it will include professional dance teams from Milwaukee and, I’m not making this up, the Klements Racing Sausages [for those of you from Not-Wisconsin, here's some video]. Frankly, they had me at “Racing Sausages.”

So, are parks really a “public necessity”? The best way to answer this is over a slice of pizza and frozen custard while listening to polkas and watching hundreds of your neighbors, and the Klements Racing Sausages, attempt to Moon Walk. Then ask your inner 5-year-old to answer the question and remember to say a quiet thank you to Dr. Wehle and Mayor Regner.



Kevin Scheunemann said...

In Kewaskum,

Kiwanis got together and bought the land and established some of the infrastructure for the jewel in the Kewaskum Park system, Kewaskum Kiwanis Park. Kewaskum is also going to be receiving a substantial private land donation to add to the Kiwanis Park.

No government socialism was needed to get that park started.

If there is not enough civic minded individuals and leadership to get together to establish a park without government money, does the community want or deserve the park?

(Last I checked, Kewaskum, at 15% of the population of West Bend, has almost as much park space as West Bend.)

West Bend "Sewer Socialism", through government expenditure, seems to do a worse job than civic minded community leaders with vision in getting things done without government in terms of park and open space.

If this is your example of big government working for the benefit of all, its a pretty weak example.

Mpeterson said...

It is nice when the nobility stoops to provide parks for the working classes, but even better when the poor pool the community's resources to provide it. That way everyone take personal responsibility and joy in the park, rather than simply be "oh so grateful to our betters."

Sewer Socialism as a weak example? I suppose great schools and public health (Milwaukee had the lowest incidence of Spanish Flu infection in the entire US) are pretty weak too. What's the point of promoting the General Welfare when there's no money in it for Dairy Queen owners? ;^)

DanBack said...

that's the old Kevin I miss...

wbman said...

Kevin, are you a member of Kiwanis, Rotary, Optimists, or any other service organization?

Nanette said...

This is a lovely ode to parks, Mr. Peterson. If Mayor Zeidler had waited for the Kiwanians to create parks in Milwaukee, there would be a lot less green space for people to enjoy now. Fewer playgrounds, fewer bike paths, fewer places to hear free music on a summer night.

I don't know about Regner, but Zeidler's socialism - a system that was rather popular throughout the state at that time - benefited West Bend's neighbor to the south in more ways than we can count, and it was all done responsibly, frugally, and on behalf of ordinary people (those fearful masses). I'd love to see some of that now.

Kevin Scheunemann said...


Yes, I'm a member of Kiwanis.

Is that verboten in the progressive universe? I get the sense from Prof. Peterson, there is disdain from "progressives" for service clubs...they diminish the need for big government. (Although when it comes to Kewaskum Kiwanis providing direct scholarship money to UWWC year in and year out, watch Prof. Peterson take the word "stoop" out of explaining that community service activity.)

How many service organizations do you belong to, OR how manny service hours do you give to the community a week?

Mpeterson said...

I love the Kiwanis and Rotary. Service clubs are at their heart progressive, unlike fast food franchises which are exploitive and depend on selling people food that's bad for them.

Kevin Scheunemann said...


Do you walk your talk and belong to a service club?

Mpeterson said...

What? Nice example of a fallacy of Irrelevant conclusion. So, like your question, none of the following is relevant to the points under discussion. ;^)

I have worked with the Oz/Wash Land Trust and been an invited speaker for the Kiwanis and Rotary and the United Way... as well as the West Bend Chamber of Commerce Leadership program now that I think about it -- and the annual Milwaukee River Clean up -- but my job doesn't really allow me the kind of time you must have to devote yourself to these service clubs.

On the other hand, having a governing body represent my public interests -- like good roads, and schools, and public parks -- makes it possible for me to work full time AND enjoy all of these things.

So, yeah. My service club is the United States of America. I pay regular dues and even volunteer my time. But I'm sure the Kiwanis are nice too.

DanBack said...

Kevin, maybe you ought to stop donating so much of your time and pick up a night shift at DQ. I'm sure the banks that gave you your credit cards would appreciate the cash.

wbman said...

Kevin, then I will tip my hat to you. I've seen many bloggers who complain about everything but don't contribute their time or money to improve things.