Basketball courts are not the problem

Lil Mirando

After neighbors complained about criminal activities at Clarke and Mooney parks in Hammond, the suggestion arose again that basketball courts should be removed.

It's not a new idea, and it has been studied in cities all around the country. The studies have found that blaming basketball courts for bad behavior and crime has been blown way out of proportion.

What's more, the presence of "activity spaces" like recreational fields and courts actually correlates with a decrease in crime rates in neighborhood parks when three factors are present: accessibility, surveillance and guardianship.

Regarding accessibility, we can consider how Mooney Avenue park is primarily accessible on one side, the Mooney Avenue side. The less accessible sides tend to be where serious crimes have occurred.

Surveillance refers to eyes on the public space, be they neighborhood eyes, law enforcement eyes or the eyes of surveillance cameras.

Other words for guardianship are organized  programs, mentoring and the public's sense of owning their public park.

Hammond is certainly not Chicago, thank God, but we could consider how the Windy City's parks department turned basketball at 11 parks in high-crime areas into organized events for 100 to 150 youths each. A report in Athletic Business noted that giving teenagers freedom without structure is a good way to set up immature youth for trouble, but structure makes all the difference.

Chicago City Parks Supervisor told Athletic Business Tony McCoy, "From my experience, any sport, not just basketball, helps with conflict resolution. You get aggression out. You get exercise... Basketball is one of those sports where you have disagreements and arguments, but if you have strong mentors and good referees, it is successful."

McCoy continued, "To bring down boundaries not just within communities but between communities, the program also ends each session with an organized all-star tournament. The tournaments will rotate between the participating parks, giving the youths a chance to interact with their peers from other communities and help familiarize them with more of the park district's facilities. They look forward to it. We'll mix them up and tear these barriers down, eliminate ... shootings and criminal activity."

Another positive outshoot of the program has been that the youth care about the spot where they are playing and don't want to tear it up or trash it with litter and graffiti.

This year, Chicago kept its outdoor basketball courts open, but other cities across the nation — including New Orleans — were motivated by the COVID-19 pandemic to remove the basketball rims in their neighborhood parks.

COVID-19 upended everything this year, but in the long term, city parks are neighborhood assets and basketball courts are not the crime magnet that some people paint them to be.

Lil Mirando gets email at editor@hammondstar.com and calls at 985-245-7834.

(1) comment

JeanneV

I strongly agree that basketball courts contribute to the safety of a community rather than increasing its level of crime. As Executive Director of the Youth Service Bureau for 30 years, I have seen the power of a simple basketball court at Horizon House, the youth shelter we operated for many years. We housed troubled and often angry teens, and frequently had to deescalate conflicts among the students. Our effective go-to response would often be a quick game of basketball. The running and jumping and focus on the game, burned off excess adrenaline and anger, resulting in greatly reduced tension in the shelter and an improved and calmer mood in the shelter.

For the cost of a cheap basketball, anyone can have a vigorous stress-reducing few hours of recreation. It's essentially free- it's good for them- it's good for the community!

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