PARK PERCEPTION VERSUS REALITY by Gordon Stewart
Wednesday, Dec. 2 — after a hard public debate over Fireman’s Park — the newly developed site, with its event center, curling center, Crooked Pint Ale House, and redeveloped park will open its doors to a divided public.
They say perception is nine-tenths of reality. Listening to the public discussion about redevelopment over the past few years, the old adage helps explain the differences in how various Chaska residents view Chaska’s most prominent street corner.
In teaching psychology, a particular drawing of a woman is used to illustrate the power of perception. Every member of the class is asked to look at the same picture. Some see the beautiful face of a young woman wearing a fancy hat with a plume. Others see a mean old woman with an enormous chin and the kind of nose that belongs next to a witch’s brew in fairy tales.
How could different people see the same reality so differently? Or were they seeing different realities? Some who saw the beautiful young woman could not perceive the old woman. Likewise, those who saw the mean old woman could not see the beautiful young woman. Objectively speaking, both women were in the picture waiting to be perceived.
What we see is shaped by memory and experience.
During the debate before the final decision on its redevelopment, many of us perceived the corner as a beautiful park under assault. The memory was of a pristine Firemen’s Park, a lovely open-space created in honor of Chaska’s firemen, green space surrounding the historic clayhole. It was where we went as children or teenagers to swim, fish, or enjoy a family picnic.
Others had a different impression of the corner. Our memory was the truck manufacturer that stood on the corner, an eyesore that struck visitors more like the witch in the psychology class picture. Passersby did not see a beautiful park or green space; they saw a site with no aesthetic sensibility. It was not a corner to be proud of, and it had nothing to do with Firemen’s Park.
No one seems to have remembered what the corner looked like 10 years ago. It would be hard for anyone to look at that the corner of Highway 41 and Chaska Boulevard and say it was beautiful.
Reality may be nine-tenths perception. But the other one-tenths also counts. Sometimes the buried memory lies in the one-tenth we don’t recall.
One of my first days in Chaska in 2006 I stopped in at the downtown Dunn Bros for a cup of coffee. I asked the young person behind the counter to tell me about Chaska. “Which Chaska?” he replied. “Old Chaska or new Chaska?” I was surprised; I didn’t know there were two. He explained that I was in old Chaska; new Chaska was up the hill.
In American general perception — sad though it may be — new means young and vibrant, like the beautiful young woman. Old means over-the-hill and dying.
All across America, downtowns are either crumbling with boarded-up businesses or they are being successfully redeveloped to preserve, re-populate, and energize them in ways that overcome the old-new divide.
The promise of the new site is that younger people from far and wide will be drawn by its beauty for curling, a pint of ale and a hamburger with a beautiful view of the clayhole, maybe a fishing rod, and a stroll on the new walkways around the old park.
As one of Chaska’s more un-athletic residents, older in age but newer to the city, I’ll be there Wednesday, where the forgotten eyesore stood, to learn a new sport that won’t threaten my health and celebrate the renewed promise of a thriving “old Chaska.”
- Gordon C. Stewart, Chaska, MN, Dec. 2, 2015