While many communities have beautiful soccer complexes, playing space is often at a premium. Youth leagues often get preferred or exclusive use of the nicest facilities, so adults looking to play often have to make do with whatever free space they can find. Even some youth leagues struggle to find places to play in rural towns. In urban areas, it can be even harder. Imagine trying to find a place to play pickup soccer in New York?

Right now there is a debate about the use of the field in Fort Green Park, where people play soccer and damage the lawn extensively. A local block association wrote about it on a NY Times Blog, and the debate began:

our neighborhood’s “front lawn” is a grass-less wasteland which resembles either a West Texas dust bowl or a messy mud pit, depending on the weather.

The cause is overuse of the lawn by a small group of sports enthusiasts who claim the field for their own every weekend and are ruining it for everyone else.

And now it is almost spring, and the players are already out on the field, once again assuring us that not a single new sprout of grass will grow there this year.

Other than by the soccer players themselves – and dogs that like to roll in the mud – the large central lawn is unusable to the majority of the community. And every year the dirt patch (which is visible from space on Google Earth) gets larger.

I thought the Halloween cemetery was pretty funny. But the author has a point. Soccer is VERY hard on turf, and overuse can make it impossible to grow grass, even tough Bermuda variants. But clearly there is a demand for places to play, and it’s not clear that the alternatives are feasible (cost, availability, insurance, etc.) The borough parks commissioner didn’t have much to say beyond ‘There’s not much we plan to do‘. That was followed up by a soccer player who often plays at the park, who felt soccer players were being unfairly maligned – many others used the park and wore down the turf. Finally, the Fort Greene blogger, Andy Newman, who was been following this issue, posted an extensive list of reactions, pro and con. It makes for an interesting read.

What do you think about pickup soccer in public parks? I’ve seen towns outright ban it. Others seem to take an almost racist attitude where signs saying ‘No Soccer’ are in Spanish only. Hispanic pickup games are widespread in our state. In our town, there was some initial grumbling when they used our new complex after hours, but they have always been very respectful of the ‘Field Closed’ signs during bad weather and when organized teams are using them. Otherwise, they play and so far it hasn’t been a problem. Our league hopes to be able to reach out to the Hispanic community through those pickup games to try and bring more of their children into our league. But that’s another post.

Has your town/city had debates like this? Public parks are for the public, so shouldn’t you be able to toss a Frisbee or kick a soccer ball? Do you just ban cleats? Ban soccer altogether? Thoughts?