The Alamo - 1955
(click to enlarge)
My neighborhood and schoolyard where 3 mounds of earth appeared in 1955
The site of this miracle lies directly behind the fence where my friend Rich and his Mom posed one day
The foundation for the Davis School expansion from which the dirt that made the Alamo was dumped
A Board of Ed. document that states that our schoolyard had not been developed at the time of the expansion
What the schoolyard looks like now after being 'developed' in the 80's

I recently logged into a linked-in Natural Playgrounds group who were discussing how to build an earthen hill that was resilient to erosion by heavy use by kids. I was impressed by the concern for solving this problem and I put my 2 cents in with this personal story that tried to explain why we think it's so important to do so.

"When I was about 8 years old, three large mounds of dirt mysteriously appeared overnight in a corner of the undeveloped schoolyard where my friends and I spent a good part of every day of our childhood. By undeveloped, I mean hard clay imbedded with coal, slag, glass and gravel, punctuated by gullies eroded from hard rain and deep snow. If you could snag a grounder on this ball field, you were headed for a tryout with Pittsburgh Pirates for sure.

Contemplation of the sudden unexpected nature of this event lasted less than a minute before we attacked Pork Chop Hill with broomsticks and pots on our heads in a reenactment of the Korean War battle from a movie we had just seen. That lasted half an hour before we decided that this triangle of bumps in the landscape was really the Alamo and it was our job as loyal Texans, who happened to live in Pittsburgh, to defend it to the death. Out came the coonskin hats and other Davy Crockett paraphernalia that we had badgered our parents into buying for us and for a "long" time - it could have been 3 years or 3 weeks - these hills became the focus of our imaginations to such an extent that we all remember it to this day, almost 60 years later.

I know this because in preparing for a panel on 'Childhood in the City' at CUNY Graduate Center, I called these guys to find out. One of them, who is now the President of a major bank in Pittsburgh, not only took an hour out of his busy day to schmooze with me, but recalled details about the baseball-eating mug wort that invaded and overgrew the hills and about the summer downpour that forced us to abandon our shoes in the clay muck in the middle of a ball game - assuring me that my recollections were not imagined. All of them knew exactly what I was talking about and dredged up their own memories even though none of them had even thought about it for all these year until now.

So, I guess the point of this story is that Nancy (the initiator of the discussion) had identified a technical problem concerning a simple landscape element that has the potential to be a significant part of children's memories and that maybe we, as professionals, assigned the responsibility of solving such problems, should do the best we can while allowing ourselves and our clients to relax and enjoy the mess as others in this discussion have suggested.

By the way - I visited the Pittsburgh Board of Education and Dept. of Public Works and dug up a photo that solves the mystery of the Alamo. It seems that in 1955, the year of the Davy Crockett craze and the height of the baby boom, a foundation was dug for the expansion of Davis School and the dirt had apparently been dumped and forgotten by the contractor. It was certainly not forgotten by the kids of Davis Field."

Growing Places