Rebecca (Becca) Gutierrez
Stories of Muncie: From the People that Matter
Conducting interviews at the parks was an interesting affair, especially for someone who is not so keen on interacting with strangers. However, Muncie locals somehow managed to put my anxieties to rest; they were frequently pleasant, friendly, insightful, and passionate about where they were living. I even had the pleasure of meeting a family who came all the way from Berne, Indiana, who were, like those of Muncie, kind and thoughtful. They told me they were in town visiting family, and wanted to tire out their children (two young girls who couldn’t have been more than six) at the park before the long drive home. I asked them why they chose Tuhey in particular; they responded that they saw that Tuhey had a bathroom in case the girls needed to go before they went home. Much to their dismay, they found that the bathrooms weren’t accessible outside of pool usage. “We also hear that Tuhey Towers was very popular, and the girls really seem to enjoy it,” the mom tells me as the two girls come down one of Tuhey Towers’ slides, one right after the other, their dad catching each in his arms.
I began to understand, then, how important Tuhey was to people, even those who weren’t from Muncie. I doubt these people knew about the Save Tuhey movement, or how hard everyone was fighting to keep the park public. Still, they would not have been able to use this park if it wouldn’t have been. Additionally, they raised a question that I almost dare not ask for fear of backlash: How public is Tuhey really, if not even the bathrooms can be accessed by everyone? Additionally, what can be done to make it more public? Should it be?
But my day of interviews wasn’t done yet; I had the privilege of interviewing a man who preferred to remain unnamed, and will henceforth be called ‘J’. J was not one of those people who was casually enjoying the park; instead, he was part of the maintenance crew. That doesn’t mean that J never enjoyed the park, however. J told me many stories about how he used to hold events at the parks, particularly McCulloch, where he lived near. He reminisced about going to Tuhey Pool in his younger years, commenting on how he really liked all that they had done to change and improve the parks. He tells me this while he is slamming stakes into the ground, which was to hold down the weed barrier he was placing on top of the old mulch to make a space for the new mulch to come. I asked him what made him turn to doing maintenance work for the park. He tells me a terribly brief yet sad story about the loss of his grandson to gun violence in Muncie; for personal reasons he asked me to leave out the details when I retell his story. He tells me that, after that, he sort of lost his way for a while. At this moment, his voice becomes, not angry, not sad, but more hollow, with the sound of someone whose memories they once held dear had now faded. He licks his lips, stabs another stake into the ground and begins to tell me another story of his youth about a friend lost to the same kind of violence. A best friend, who was almost like a brother, was missing for almost the whole of summer. When he was found, since J was the closest one to him, he had to be the one to identify his friend’s body. For personal reasons, again, J asks me to leave out the details of his story because he’s worried that the public of Muncie might not look so favorably upon him and his past. I want to tell him that his story is important and part of Muncie history, just as the parks are, but, then again, it is his story. I hope that, if he reads my retelling of his stories, he will share these stories with me again and allow me to publish them on a more public platform.
Despite my earlier assessment of Muncie being the positive environment I know it is, no place is without its flaws. The history of Muncie, like anywhere else, is messy. I, being a Ball State student from Milwaukee, WI, couldn’t help but compare my old way of life with this new one. I remember seeing local gun violence on the news as a child a minimum of three times a week, and now receive text notifications about shots fired near campus every other weekend. And still, despite these problems, J regarded Tuhey Park and all public amenities in Muncie as a safe space.
There are not two sides to Muncie; all facets are blended together to make up a unifying and unique culture. These interviews are crucial in helping determine what that culture is. Because I am not from here, if I had not gone out and met Muncie locals, I would have never known how much this city values its parks, almost unlike any other. J was right; the public spaces that exist here are deeply influential on the perceptions of safety as a direct result of the urban environment (Gerus-Gościewska & Gościewski, 2021). For this reason, it is necessary to understand the views and feelings of locals about the immediate environment, because “Urban solutions proposed by the local residents focus on immediate social needs, most of them are highly realistic and practical, and some are innovative” (Gerus-Gościewska & Gościewski, 2021).
For these reasons, it was necessary that a portion of the research conducted was through the use of informal conversations and with structured interviews. Doing this gave use a more personal view off how real people who utilize Tuhey feel about the park. However, it must be noted that the use of these conversations and interviews are not used in the same way other data, such as widely dispersed surveys, might be. For example, the Muncie Parks and Recreation 5-year plan surveys over one thousand locals and their opinions on the parks. Because we do not have the same resources as the Parks and Rec Board, we are not able to conduct such a vast survey. Still, the data from our interviews and conversations can be used, instead, as a way to corroborate the data from the Parks and Rec Board.
For this portion of our data collection, we have found key words and phrases within our interviews and conversations that pertain to our parks, specifically Tuhey. From there, each key word or phrase was given a function to determine the relevancy to the park and how this can affect either further research into the parks or how it might influence ongoing work on the parks. For example, one of the most commonly occurring words across all interviews was the word “pool” (specifically as it relates to Tuhey Pool). This word occurred eleven times across five out of eight interviews/conversations. Tuhey pool was mentioned nine of the eleven times as it pertains to the pool’s usage. The remaining two mentions were about the funding and maintenance of the pool. Because of the frequency in which the pool was mentioned, even within a small data sample, it can be safe to conclude that the pool is often used and has great significance in relation to the attendance at Tuhey Park, especially when examining facts such as that from Shannon Powers, a Muncie Parks and Rec board member since January of 2021, that Tuhey Park had over seventy thousand visits in the three months that the pool was open this past year. Examining this data is also a great example of how we are able to combine our data with that of the Muncie Parks and Rec Board.
I think that, in our interviews and conversations, it was important to note three recurring themes spread across several different key words and phrases; themes including 1) education (specifically as it relates to Ball State), 2) recreational and leisure activities, and 3) people or families. I believe this gives us some insight on how Tuhey Park is actually a central hub for activity in Muncie.
Starting with education, we must take into account that Tuhey Park is the closest public park to Ball State University, which has large amounts of influence over the community. Tuhey is also right across the river from Central High School, of which five of my own thirty-eight participants attended. One group of Central students reported that they liked Tuhey Park because it was close to school and they could walk there on their lunch break. The other group of students lived in the area and were able to ride their bikes to the park to hang out. Unfortunately, no Ball State students were interviewed, as it’s been noted by some locals that BSU students rarely get off of campus; admittedly, I have been a student for five years and even live off campus, yet this semester was my first time I had ever been to Tuhey, despite it being so close. In my personal opinion, I think BSU students simply aren’t very aware of the Muncie public parks, and are more likely to frequent Minnetrista because Ball State informs students about it, as opposed to the public parks. I digress, because the main objective here is to show that Tuhey Park is practically the center of Muncie, and its proximity to several major educational institutions is part of what connects it to the greater whole of Muncie. Perhaps, if Ball State students were more informed about the park, like Central students are, the park could serve as a sort of bridge to bring BSU students off campus and into the greater community of Muncie.
The second most commonly occurring theme pertains to recreational and leisure activities. These key words and phrases included items like swimming, trails, and music (to name a few). The most commonly occurring word out of all the interviews was “walk” (9), followed by a three-way tie between, “trails,” “run,” and “bike” (5 each). If these words are occurring often, especially pertaining to Tuhey, it might be safe to assume that these are activities people enjoy or want to experience more of. This means that people need a safe space to perform these activities. Tuhey has a series of walkways throughout it, and a trail across the street on White River Blvd. However, Tuhey is a rather small park, and there might be difficulty found in adding more walkways in a way that makes the park appear cohesive. For this reason, further research would be needed in order to see exactly what people want in terms of trails. For now, however, one could assert that better care of the trails that already exist there must be taken. The trails and walkways that already exist around Tuhey must be well maintained so that people continue to use them in all the ways they most enjoy.
I did, additionally, want to draw attention to an aspect of recreation that might be overlooked by some because it is not based on a word that occurs frequently, like the elements I have analyzed so far. In this case, research is pertaining to one of the existing functions within recreation, which is “suggestions,” or, rather, things people might like to see appear in the parks, specifically at Tuhey. This, however, contained a large amount of suggestions, with almost no one suggestion by one person corresponding with a suggestion made by another. This included things such as baseball, beach volleyball, rinse off areas, music or festivals, and flowers or flower trails. Again, rarely did these overlap across interviews. However, because of the amount of suggestions, it is not that any of these things interviewees brought up must be taken into account, but it is acknowledging that the people of Muncie want something added to Tuhey, whatever that may be.
Gerus-Gościewska, M.; Gościewski, D. Grey Systems Theory as an Effective Method for Analyzing Scarce, Incomplete and Uncertain Data on the Example of a Survey of Public Perceptions of Safety in Urban Spaces. Land 2021, 10, 73. https://doi.org/10.3390/land10010073