When I was given the assignment to make an argument for a “space” that has become a “place” in my life, it was easy to choose Loose Park in Kansas City. I don’t think I have had any place affect me over the course of my life as much as Loose Park, and whenever I go there, there is that immediate and familiar recognition of swirling emotions, memories, and nostalgia that makes me sure that Loose Park is “my” place in this world. Loose Park is located just south of the Plaza district in Kansas City along Wornall Road, and it is about a square mile of rolling hills, towering oak trees, ponds, and various different areas such as the tennis courts, the water park, and the rose garden.
To me, Loose Park is definitely a “place” and not a “space”. My personal definition of a “space” is a location in which human behavior and interaction dominates and the locale becomes only a backdrop for what the people there are doing (as in a grocery store, where the physical location is defined by the purpose that it serves in relation to human behavior). I see a “place” as somewhere where human behavior does not necessarily dominate. A “place” is a location that exists independently and (not necessarily) naturally in and of itself, for its own purposes, and people are lucky enough to go there and live some fleeting moments of their lives in the presence of this place.
Loose Park is the perfect epitome of this concept of “place” for me, and for much of Kansas City. Go to Loose Park any day of the week, any time during the summer, and you will see at least two to three hundred people out enjoying the beauty of the park and the bright, wide-open views which seem to encourage a communal sense of peaceful tolerance. One encounters all different kinds of people in Loose Park, yet all are (for the most part) respectful of each other and unobtrusive, because everyone is enjoying the beauty of a perfect summer day in the middle of the city. I think that Loose serves as something of an urban refuge for much of the city’s working class – it is very common to see a businessman pull up to the benches and take a smoke break during his lunch hour, or a large Spanish – speaking family enjoying a picnic – so I think there is something of a communal understanding that time spent in Loose Park is somewhat precious and shouldn’t be disturbed by strangers. You don’t see this same understanding at say, the Chiefs games or downtown in the Power & Light District, where people are much more aggressive and confrontational towards strangers.
The most important features of the park are the pond and the rose garden. The pond is a place where all different kinds of people come to watch the flocks of geese that swim around and walk fearlessly around the park’s visitors, and one can often find children and couples on dates throwing chunks of bread out to the birds. The rose garden is one of the most beautiful places in all of Kansas City, and it is constantly inhabited by couples of all ages taking leisurely strolls, taking the time to appreciate the beauty of the roses and the fountain. It is very common to see weddings, homecoming / prom photo sessions, and various other ceremonies there because the beauty of the rose garden is something spiritual and emotional for a lot of Kansas Citians.
However, I feel that those are the more public and well-known aspects of Loose Park. I have been going to Loose Park all my life, and when I was younger, with my family, we would make the rounds to the rose garden, the pond, the playgrounds, the water park, etc. However, I discovered, as I got older, that there are really two Loose Parks – the one that the public of Kansas City knows about and the one that is inhabited by the high school kids around Kansas City during long, lazy summer days and wild, exciting nights. This is the Loose Park that has really become “my place” to me.
During those long, lazy afternoons, we would avoid the more popular areas of the park and would instead choose the sprawling empty stretches of beautiful green grass. The blazing white sun, the endless, cloudless blue stretch of sky, and the sea of shiny green grass was the ultimate playground of freedom. Kids would lay out and tan, bring guitars and drums and throw impromptu jam sessions, smoke, drink, fool around, or absolutely whatever else they wanted to do, because in the middle of Loose Park there are no rules and there is no one to interfere with you and your friends. It is a place that encourages freedom, spontaneity, and social interaction, because the sprawling vast beauty surrounding you and the clear blue sky above makes it seem that time does not pass whatsoever and this place is ours to fill up with whatever ideas we can come up with.
Loose Park again transforms as night falls. The visitors and families stop going there about 9:30 or 10 o’ clock, and soon after the high school kids begin arriving there. I have no idea how the ritual started or why we all followed it, but it is a Loose Park convention that if you want to come up to Loose and party at night, you park along the west side next to the tennis courts. Certain nights, the parking lot is entirely filled with cars and the area next to the tennis courts is full of two, three, four hundred kids, socializing, flirting, drinking, laughing, sometimes fighting, but mostly living. Loose Park at night is an amplification of what it is in the day – the space for ultimate freedom and youthful experimentation. If you are in the social circle that visits Loose Park for these nocturnal soirees, you know just as well as I know that there is nothing more exciting or important-seeming than being in a big empty park surrounded by everyone you know with the freedom to do anything you want.
For me, my personal attachment to Loose as a place goes so much deeper than the standard social elements experienced there because of the unforgettable memories I have experienced there. My first kiss, my first breakup, my first car accident, my first real fight, my first broken arm, my first time running from the police, my first time getting high, my first time drinking beer – there are almost too many memories to name. They all blend into a sort of overwhelming emotion for me that reminds me that Loose Park is the place where I felt the most free and the most alive during my youth, and it is a place that I will never let go and will never forget. To me, Loose Park is home, because Loose Park gives me the freedom to make my life into whatever I desire.