Ryan’s Place – a Study in Free Parks
This post is part of a continuing road trip series by The Art of Not Being Governed.
Ryan Adams drowned in Lake Powell when he was two years old. His parents, in despair, channeled their grief into the creation of a public playground in River Heights, Utah – Ryan’s home town. Ryan’s Place, as it is now known, is marked by a picket fence and several large pieces of playground equipment, including the centerpiece – a towering rocket.
Unlike the many similar parks in the area, Ryan’s Place was built entirely by voluntary donations; no tax funds were used. Even more remarkable, the actual construction was done by volunteers using all donated equipment.
My family visited the park on a quiet Sunday morning. There is street parking just a few feet from the entrance. The size of the structure is the most striking feature. The primary elements are designed to look like a castle, and the effect is quite imposing. Wandering through the play area, I was struck by the creativity in the design. There are bridges, ramparts, cars, planes, a jeep, and even a lemonade stand (just playground equipment designed to look like a little shack and with painted sign out front). Noticeably absent are the pre-fabricated, modular structures commonly seen in playgrounds. There is very little molded plastic, and the entire playground has a uniformly sturdy look and feel. I work in the building materials industry, and so can verify that extremely high quality materials were used for the project.
Everywhere in the park, and attached to every piece of equipment, are small metal plaques, each with the name of a person, family, or organization, identifying who donated the money required to build each particular piece of the park. The underground play telephone was paid for by a local audio company. The centerpiece rocket was paid for by a local aerospace company. Each picket in the fence which surrounds the playground is inscribed with a name. Members of the community “purchased” each fence picket for donations of a few dollars each, and then were memorialized on the pickets themselves. It is apparent from the inscriptions that many fence pickets were dedicated to children and loved ones.
All around the playground are dozens of pavers and walkway stones – each with a name and a message inscribed. The entrance to the park features a large monument naming those who helped to fund and build the playground, and a section devoted to Ryan himself. Eight firms donated more than $10,000 each. It is not publicly known how much more, as $10,000+ was the highest sponsorship level. Twelve groups donated between $5,000 and $10,000 each, including a few individuals and families. The entire project cost more than $250,000 dollars – all of it voluntarily donated.
The architectural firm which designed the park consulted local school children and incorporated their suggestions into the final layout.
Ryan’s Place was built in just one week.
To simply stand in the park surrounded by the names of people willing to give their time and money to a children’s playground is a moving experience. The experience is powerful evidence that Hobbes’ ‘war of all against all’ is nothing more than a deranged fantasy. No such war ever existed, nor can it exist. Human beings are social and cooperative beings, capable of great empathy and personal giving.
Unlike the many government-funded “free” parks (which aren’t actually free – they are paid for by various municipal taxes, federal and state grants, and of course, the extortion racket of traffic citations), Ryan’s Place is actually and truly free. Nobody was forced to fund it against their will. There are no fees for entrance. The names of the corporate and individual sponsors do not detract from the park. The plaques are not garish NASCAR look-a-like advertisements. They are small, beautiful, and ever-present in a way that serves as a constant reminder that the park is a gift by the members of the community to the community itself. It is not, like most parks, a socialist jobs project paid for with money taken from those who live nearby, or who might have the misfortune of working or spending money nearby.
The park also serves as a reminder that a stateless free market society would produce free and beautiful neighborhood parks.
Ryan’s Place was built on land which was already owned by the city, and it is maintained by the city, but these two facts do not detract from the point. Buying the land would have been only a few tens of thousands of dollars extra, an easily achievable goal for the project. Maintenance is a bit different, as it is an ongoing expense, but in a stateless free market, some firm might have offered to maintain it for a number of years, or perhaps a board could have been created to look after the park. It hardly seems reasonable to assume that so many people who gave so much would simply walk away from the newly-created park and allow it to fall into disrepair.
Ryan’s Place is a beautiful edifice to human achievement in the absence of coercion.