Sociology 101: Ethnography of public space

I am at a public park in the Midwood neighborhood of Brooklyn, NY, at around 6:00 p.m. Across the street from the side entrance is Edward R. Murrow High School. Most students have gone, but some are sitting on the ground in the parking lot adjacent to the school. Inside the park, there is a group of high school students playing handball against the wall. Their bicycles are present, although there is a sign that says no bicycles are allowed in the park. The sign lists things that are prohibited in the park. However, at this time of the day, the park sanitation workers who usually supervise are absent.

Outside the gated wall sport section there is an open area with basketball hoops which has only male teenagers who are in groups of 2-4 playing basketball. There are three hoops, with a circle around each one indicating the court boundaries. All three are missing rope material that was there a few years ago. There are other signs of wear such as benches once painted a vibrant green are now rusted metal-gray

There are two teenage boys playing basketball, and a forty year-old man starts shooting hoops. The boys ignore the man and continue playing. But then the man misses, and his basketball interferes with the boys’ basketball. The boys look around for another hoop, but there are no vacancies. The two boys leave the park.

The little kids’ section is located past the basketball courts. These kids mostly consist of toddlers and their mothers. There are no fathers in this area. Two girls, both about 13 years old, are in that section. One climbs up the slide and sits on top of its hood. The other girl is on the ground, capturing her friend on camera with her phone. Another boy is alone, taking a picture of himself with his phone.

In the middle of the park, there is a restroom in the shape of a house with doors on either side for men and women. Several kids are running around the restroom house. They are playing hide and seek, and they are using the walls of the restroom house as a hiding spot. One girl is looking for the others. The rest are peeking to see when she is coming.

On the other side of the restroom house, there are young kids also. However, as it gets later into the evening, the younger kids leave and the elementary and middle school aged children are there instead. A girl sits with chalk, drawing on the ground. Her mother is nearby, making hopscotch for her daughter and trying to get her attention. Eventually the girl stops drawing and plays hopscotch instead. She also has a pink air ball, which she plays with every now and then. Another  four year old girl is by herself near a tree, using a twig to draw on dirt. Then her mother, who is strolling a baby in a carriage, wants to clean up her daughter  with some water, but the fountain is not working, so they just go home. Some kids are jumping on the narrow bridge, which is blocking the other kids from getting through. The monkey bars were taken away. Also, the agility ladder was taken down. Both were there five years ago.

In the back of the park, there are chess tables with groups of old Russian-speaking (it sounds like Russian) men. These men are in groups of 2-6 with only 2 players while the others are watching the game and socializing. Most men are smoking. Smoking is prohibited in the park. Also no adult is allowed inside the park without the accompaniment of a child. There is no one to police these violations. One man has a bicycle basket in which he is collecting plastic bottles and cans. The ground is scattered with left garbage, despite obvious garbage cans.

A girl and her brother are on the double slide. Instead of sliding down, they remain at the top and keep banging against the slide with their feet. They are preventing the other kids from using the slides. Their mother warns them that she’ll have to take them home if they continue “misbehaving.” They don’t stop banging, so the mother carries them both off the slide and apologizes to the mothers of the other children. She is about to leave, but the kids are crying, so she lets them stay a little longer.

Also Read: What is Ethnography?

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I graduated with a B.A. in Sociology from Hunter College in 2016. I have served as an artist for mural projects and studied Human Rights, educational systems, Urban Sociology and Creative Placemaking among other subjects. I have training as a direct support professional for adults and children with disabilities and I have served in Americorp for the 2019-2020 school year. As a member of Americorp, I have had coaching in anti-oppressive and trauma informed teaching practices. I have been a math teacher in the years 2020-2022 in Philadelphia.