On a sun-drenched morning at Woodbury’s Central Park complex, June Beck and her friend Phyllis Meyer enjoyed a game of canasta at the indoor garden, with the waterfall just within earshot. While Beck and Meyer played canasta, mothers read colorful Dr. Seuss books to their children, before heading to the café for a lunchtime PB and J and ice cream.
The tranquil scene changes around 3 p.m. during the school year. Teenagers come to unwind after a long school day. Their presence brings a clash of generations and culture.
Simply looking at the users of the Central Park, one can see the diversity. On one Thursday, I spent the entire day watching the many fluxes in patrons ambling through the public facility. In the morning, I observed nine seniors, all white, sitting at tables reading or enjoying the scenery and others walking along the paths.
By mid-morning, a rush of families came in. Many young mothers brought children to read and discover in the library, followed by an early lunch at the café. This rush shows the first signs of a racially diverse Woodbury with many Indian and Middle Eastern families sharing the Central Park experience with their children and older members of their family. By eleven o’clock, I was unable to find any of the seniors I saw in the early morning.
At 2:30, many of the young families had left. Then I began to see young adults and teens coming in. This group of people was absolutely the most racially diverse of all. In a rough estimation I counted the group of computer users to be about 40 percent white and the rest of the group being a mix of Asian, African American and Latino. Most of the white people I saw were older than the people of other races.
The Central Park complex
This Woodbury complex includes a library, café, YMCA (with a teen center), amphitheater, a large indoor park, and day care center, and draws hundreds of people daily. Seniors cross the walkway connecting their assisted living home to the park and spend a pleasant midday under the looming trees.
Complaints to police from the “Cups ‘n’ Scoops” café owner and parents have increased in 2008, according to the police. Police are called because of bad language and raucous behavior in and near the library. Some library personnel have voiced concerns because of raucous behavior and rising tension between users.
The park now closes the hallway connecting it to the YMCA earlier in the evening because of safety concerns. The walkway has windows to the outdoors along its whole length on one side and windows into the YMCA teen center along half of the other side.
Tension and response
“I used to use it [the park] everyday, I mean I live just around the corner,” stated one senior, who asked to remain anonymous. “But now I barely come here and even when I do I never come after three or so. I don’t want to have to deal with the kids… It’s just too disruptive for me.”
A middle-aged man, also asking to remain anonymous, said youth used the library as a hangout, not a resource. “You can’t even get on the computer sometimes because so many kids are hanging out and checking their MySpace,” he said. “They can get really loud and ruin it for everyone,”
Some youth are frustrated too. One African American teenage girl interviewed outside the library said after, “I don’t understand why people seem to make a big deal about us… I just come here to study and meet up with friends.”
In the grand scheme of things, these are not severe problems. When Beck and Meyer took a break from their canasta game, they both said Central Park was pleasant and well-run. But even a passing joke reflected the current undercurrent.
“If they want to rob us, they can take the deck,” Meyer mused, “Or we can teach them Canasta, take your pick.” (Despite the joking, there have not been any reports of robberies or assaults in the library and park complex.)
More restrictions on teens
Due to graffiti painted in the men’s bathroom in the park this summer, the park and the YMCA began closing the hallway connecting the two facilities at 7:30 p.m.. The YMCA closes at 10 p.m. on weekdays and Central Park closes at 9 p.m.
The early hallway closing time is a nuisance to many. Said one teen user: “I’m not doing anything wrong, I just want to go to the library. Honestly, I think that they’re just scared, but I mean if they want to keep us out we can just go around outside. It’ll suck in the winter.”
Jean Sanon, Teen Center Manager at the Woodbury YMCA said they decided to close the hall early to create a safe environment. “Kids were just hanging out in there and it’s unsupervised and poorly lit,” he said.
On any given day, the YMCA Teen Center sees an average of 50 teenagers. Many travel freely back and forth between Central Park and the YMCA regularly. “The misconception is that these kids are just out to cause trouble…a lot of these kids come from the inner cities where everything is loud and boisterous and they are asked simply to conform,” said Sanon.
When asked about the rise in tensions between generations Sanon explained “A lot of them [seniors] are not just uncomfortable but unexposed. It’s like asking someone to run a marathon one morning without training, If you ask them to just close their eyes, I think that they would treat them like they would their own grandchildren…it doesn’t matter whether they’re Black, White, Hispanic, or Asian: they’re just kids.”
Library welcomes new users
Chad Lubbers is the manager of the R.H. Stafford library branch in Central Park and he welcomes new patrons.
“Our media collection brings in a populace of customers who wouldn’t normally come to the library,” says Lubbers. “… We have some loud customers that we have to talk to, sometimes we may have to ask them to leave but that’s about it.”
“You may be a taxpayer, but their parents are taxpayers too…we have to cater to the community, the community doesn’t cater to us and we’ve seen the library grow because of what we offer,” Lubbers explained. The Stafford Library along with Central Park has offered everything from courses about coffee and knitting to their upcoming plans for a Guitar Hero game night. In 2007, the Stafford branch received over 400,000 patrons and had over 800,000 items checked out from its collection and that number is growing.
Alexander Knowles is a freelance writer from Woodbury. He welcomes e-mail comments at AJ.Knowles@yahoo.com