Friday, May 27, 2011

Rewind: Proctor Park

Recently, the City Of Houston closed serval park clubhouses and public pools. None were "safe" and any was just as likely to get closed as the next. A group of parents from all over the Heights, as well as State Rep Jessica Farrar, all wrote letter on behalf of the wonderful Pam Foote and Proctor Park. This park is more than just a play place. It is central to life and community in the Proctor Plaza/ North Norhill neighborhood. It is also a favorite of families from all over the Heights and even outside the Heights. There is truly something special about it!

Whether our letters made an impact or not, we can't really know. What we do know is that Proctor will remain open and staffed. In celebration I am bringing back another early post from this blog, which talks about Proctor Park and it's role in the neighborhood.

Before the Proctor reboot, I do want to add that the only other Heights area parks to be effected are Love Pool, which is being closed, and Milroy Park, which will have reduced clubhouse hours. According to this Click2 Houston report, the Mayor based these decisions on usage. I am surprised, then, to see Cherryhurst in Montrose on the list. That is an amazing park that is all well attended when I get south of I10 with my own kiddos.

This little quote also baffles me:

All city-funded youth sports leagues are being eliminated, officials said. However, youth baseball will continue due to funding provided by the Houston Astros.
It's not like sports keep kids out of trouble or anything. Now we'll be spending money cleaning up mischief rather than letting kids do something productive with their summer. Makes perfect sense. Ugh. Well, I digress. Here's Proctor:

When we were house shopping several years ago, we did it with an eye toward raising a family. We found the perfect neighborhood for us- Proctor Plaza. There were so many things that appealed to us about the area. Knowing we would likely sacrifice green space for square footage, public areas were of particular interest. We were thrilled to find a roomy bungalow just 2 blocks from a public park. I knew that I wanted to be near a park, but I had no idea how central the park would become to my life as a stay-at-home mom of a toddler.

Proctor Park is nestled snugly in to the middle of the Proctor Plaza neighborhood, better known to many as North Norhill. The park is a full city block complete with community center and is a hub of activity for our little neighborhood, as well as a destination for families from all over the Heights. Gifted to the neighborhood in 1924, a sign near the path states the purpose: “so that the kids would have a place to play.” Simple enough!
Daily, from morning ‘til the sun goes down, families like mine are making the most of Proctor Park. However, neighbors say this wasn’t always the case. A large covered area, now a learning ground for new bikes and a canvas for sidewalk chalk artists, was once a basketball court. The local lore is the court attracted people from outside the neighborhood- people who didn’t care that this was a quiet subdivision beginning to blossom with young families. The players brought drinking, drugs and general bad behavior, usually leaving the trash of their habits behind. Fights broke out often and the police were often "invited" by neighbors. Parents never felt safe bringing their young children by. Prompted by concerned members of the Proctor Plaza Neighborhood Association (PPNA), the park took the hoops down and change came quickly. Seemingly overnight, it became the park we now know and love.

Spending a lot of time at the park and being active in my neighborhood association, I learned an interesting fact: parks in Houston get funding based on use. While this park has been highly used by families since the hoops were removed, there was no one really working on the park’s behalf. Enter Pam Foote, Proctor’s Recreation Supervisor since 2005.
Pam came to our little park after 15 years at the Mecca of Houston Parks, Memorial Park. Under Ms Pam’s watch, a Park Advisory Council, or PAC, called Friends of Proctor Park was formed. Every park in the city can have one, but Pam is certain Proctor’s is the best. The PAC does fundraising and also hosts events that get the park exposure. In the two years since the PAC was formed, the park has hosted annual events like an easter egg hunt and a fall festival. The park also hosts the neighborhood wide Heights Kids’ Group every Monday, PPNA monthly meetings and other special events. The flurry of activity is generating results- a fresh coat of paint on the playscape and new swing seats are just the beginning of what Pam and the PAC have in store!

In addition to being a fabulous playground, the park offer programs like a free after school program and free t-ball and soccer. For more information on any of these activities, call Pam @ 713.862.6907. [Edit: As stated above, these programs are no longer avaiable due to budget cuts]

Part of what makes this park so appealing to the families from all over The Heights is the air conditioned club house and working bathrooms. As any mom will tell you, access to a restroom can make or break a day at the park! The clubhouse has a small kitchen and can be rented out for events- stipulations include 30 days notice, fee of $90/3 hours use of facilities, plus the cost to hire security. Pam has even charmed a bargain out of one officer, who offers a discounted security rate for regulars at the park. Non-profits can use the facility during the week free of charge.
If you’ve never been by Proctor Park, it’s time for a visit. Play tennis, throw a ball to your dog or just relax in the grass. This is one of the most alive yet peaceful places where you’ll find The Heights at play!

7 comments:

  1. Man, I have some great memories of that place. We were there every day. My two oldest learned to ride their bikes on that basketball court, and we all spent countless hours climbing around on that playscape. I'm so glad to see that Ms. Pam will still be around, and the neighborhood kids will have a great place to play!

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  2. It's a great little place, but of course I'm biased because I live in North Norhill/Proctor Plaza. Thank you for sharing some of the history!

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  3. John in Proctor PlazaMay 30, 2011 at 9:13 PM

    Good news on the park. I'm happy to hear it.

    I think the juxtaposition of your comments of the "local lore" on the basketball court and the comment on the cuts to sports leagues is kind of interesting, though. (I totally agree on the value of those sports leagues, by the way.) I lived half a block from a basketball court in Sunset Heights for several years. (It was not a problem at all.) One observation: a basketball court gets used by teenagers - just the kind of people you're worried about with the sports leagues. Basketball courts also get used by people less affluent (and to be blunt - less white) than a lot of those young families in the neighborhood.

    So that local lore always makes me wonder if richer newcomers pushed out people who'd been using the park before, and who may have fewer recreational options, and also should be served by city services. I don't know - I wasn't here when that went on, and maybe if I was I'd think differently.

    It just makes me extremely uncomfortable every time I hear someone talking about it. I'd like to think that the Heights can become home to new people without becoming less welcoming to others, but to be honest, I think that as much as people like to talk about the wonderful diversity of the Heights, they'd prefer it be a bit less diverse. (And I really hope to find out that I'm wrong about that.)

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  4. well the city is crying broke( while they give raises every year to city employees regardless how many privately employed houstonians take pay cuts) and talking about closing parks great, they do a pretty crappy job of keeping them up anyway. why not sell them( or more so lease them) to private or non profit intersts instead of closing them?

    Esp in the high usage areas that have higher home values( downtown) a non profit could easily get the money to keep up the parks. Esp if they do not have to hire union full time employees for everything.

    Somebody could likely make a profit of running the pools they close AND give the public a better usage esperiance.

    I am from fort worth , before moving here. We had the dirtiest most shamefull zoo in the world there. Of course it was .50 for admission( and worth almost all 50). Hardly anybody EVER went there.
    Finally budgets got tight one year and the people who had been trying to privatize the zoo won. In a couple of years we had a world class zoo, one of the best in the world. the price went up( with programs for local kids to get to go free at least once a year if they can't afford it) BUT way more people pay the price because it is a place you would actually want to see!..
    Miss Mayor, please sell off ( or lease) parks do not close them down.

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  5. John,

    I only moved to Proctor Plaza shortly after this all went down but there are a couple of things in your comment that I would like to address.

    As I understand it, the people using the court at Proctor may or may not have been "less white" but they were certainly not harmless teens and the games at the court weren't keeping them out of trouble. This was evidenced many evenings by neighbors having to call the police because of loud, violent altercations as late at 10 pm. It was also evidenced by the empty/broken booze bottles and drug paraphernalia left around the court. I think if this court was being used for basketball and nothing more, the neighborhood certainly would have supported it staying open but it was the remnants of these games that made the park totally unsafe and unfit for small children, which is what Proctor is really designed for.

    Additionally, Proctor Plaza is all bungalows, i.e. small homes. It is one area of the Heights that is still sort of representative of what some might consider "old Heights," with a really mixed bag of people from different socio economic and ethnic groups.

    Lastly, the park does still serve kids in need, especially in the summer. Ms Pam has a wonderful group of middle school age kids who stay out of trouble by helping her with different programs like after school care and even free lunches in the summer. The neighborhood embraces these programs and the kids involved in them. JUst come to the Easter Egg hunt some year to see first hand!

    Sadly, I agree some people want the Heights to be less diverse. There are always people everywhere who want less diversity. It's the sad state of our current culture but we can all work to change that on a daily basis. There are still plenty of people (and who they are might even surprise you) who do want, appreciate and hope to maintain a little of that "old Heights." Without that, many of us wouldn't be here now.

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  6. I purchased a home across from Proctor Plaza Park in 1998, before the basketball hoops were taken down. I personally had no problems or called the police due to the youths (late teens, early 20’s, mainly hispanic) using the covered courts. I did witness many altercations and much loud cursing from the group.
    The covered courts are physically located next to the playground. Because of the youths at the basketball courts the playground was unused, if fact there was rarely anyone at the park but those playing basketball. I did not realize until after the hoops were removed how little diversity there actually was at the park. People in the neighborhood did not even walk their dogs by the park!
    Since the hoops have been removed the park is used by ALL of the neighborhood. The playground is heavily utilized by families of all races. I have noticed the park being used to bring in Hispanic children for soccer, roller derby practice, dancing lessons in preparation for a Quinceanera along with the many city hosted children’s events.
    In the beginning I was ambivalent regarding the removal of the hoops from the park. After seeing the park transformed I will never be a proponent of restoring the basketball courts.

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