Public Park, Public Oasis, Public Unrest

A few years ago, my husband and I moved from a large suburban house to a much smaller apartment in the city. "Don't you miss your garden?" is a question I am still asked with great regularity, always in a tone of sympathy and dismay.

"Not at all," I answer blithely. My little yard was lovingly worked and sometimes even lovely, but I always thought of it more as a science project than a place of repose. Now I am able to decamp for weeks at a time, free of worries about mowing, sowing, watering, weeding, and all the other tasks that even the smallest cultivated plot demands. I buy a few houseplants in the winter and happily toss them or give them away when an occasion to pack up arrives.

The truth, though, is that my happiness depends on a nearby city park. Here I can watch the flowers bloom and the seasons unfold without any of that fretful awareness of waiting chores that greets any gardener who steps outside. The fact that I share the space with thousands of strangers is a source of pleasure, not regret. No single person can give a garden the attention it demands or the appreciation it deserves.

Today, for example, the grass needs mowing. Untroubled, I note how happy the local geese and pigeons become when their world goes to seed. The path is lined with flowering lilac hedges that I look forward to watching other people prune. Ducklings paddle between lily pads at a pond beyond my wildest garden ambitions. Water splashes down a series of rocks in a cascade I never would or could install at home. Tall red columbine sway under the trees that surround the water. Soon the iris will be in bloom, and later the rocks will be drenched in the heady aroma of milkweed, sheltering nurse of monarch butterflies. Wild pink roses poke up amid the lupines.

Don't let the wildflowers fool you. My urban garden, like most city parks, is an artificial construction. It was built over a century ago, in part to sooth the masses of people moving into a crowded, rapidly growing urban space. The city leaders loved the economic benefits of all these new workers, but they were smart enough to realize that the occasional public oasis would strengthen their wealth and power, not threaten it. That little bit of wisdom continues to benefit us all.

Thousands of miles away, in the world's second largest city, Turks are fighting their government in a protest that began in outrage at the planned destruction of Taksim Square, one of Istanbul's shockingly rare city parks. The unrest has sources that extend far beyond a single patch of green, but that doesn't mean the spark is insignificant.

Istanbul's mosques and palaces are decorated with glorious tiles that mimic the flowers and patterns of a garden paradise, and its shops and homes repeat the same story of fountains and blossoms on everything from carpets to plastic shopping bags. But without the real thing, an actual green space with a bit of grass and a glimpse of water, any city dweller will feel deprived and oppressed, angry enough to rise up in revolt. A city park is never sufficient to keep an urban population satisfied, nor should it be, but it is a necessary foundation for all that follows.

Turkey's leaders should wise up and recognize the value -- and the pleasure -- of a public park.