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Behind-the-Scenes

Parks & Rec Public Meeting

I would like to say that I’m hugely gratified that the Parks & Recreation public meeting opportunity took place at all.

The fact that the Parks & Rec department hosted a chance to get and give feedback, I thought was so good.

The consultant/moderator (not sure where he was from, or with what company/cost – but he did a good job facilitating discussion I thought) started by mentioning that Parks and Recreation = not just features and facilities, but maintenance and programs too. The whole package — good point.

He also said that in the past apparently, it was thought that parks were “the icing on the cake” for a city and now we’re seeing that they are more essential to economic development, not to mention their associated health benefits.

I am personally very interested in how vibrant, well-used parks can facilitate a cohesive community. One where children and adults share facilities and enjoy the places together. Not always at the same time perhaps, but crossing paths in a neighborly way. I would love to increasingly see our parks as community or neighborhood gathering places. This differs somewhat from others, I think. More on that below.

The reporter from the TV station KRBC there at the meeting asked me how I use parks myself and my answer was, “To sit on a bench and read.” There aren’t really places where I’ve found actually, to able to do that in Abilene.

Other friends I know are looking for places to romp with their dogs. Camp Barkeley dog park is a great asset, but I’ve also heard they like to ramble in a regular park. One friend goes to Kirby Park for this, because she’s found it’s got more green and is nice for that.

There was mention of wanting to build a park in the South part of Abilene, and I have to say I have questions about going in this direction. But I don’t live in that part of town, and so would like to hear from folks out that direction. My thoughts are that this area has developed in a way that is very car-focused, and I don’t think a park in that area would be money well-spent. From my own andecdotal analysis, people travel already by car to their activities and are happy with that. They use the D1/Action Zone or other private exercise facilities, or go to soccer games at the fields on Maple. The “Wylie Sports Complex” is already partially funded by Abilene money from what I understand, and I think a lot of people get good use out of that. So I’m not sure there’s a need for anything else. Since the lifestyle of folks out this direction is I think car-focused, the neighborhoods might not use or benefit much from a park. One can’t ride a bike or walk to one anyway, since there aren’t sidewalks and the developments are built off of highways.

It’s also frustrating to have parks already in disrepair, and yet be talking about building a new one. I’d like to know more of the thinking on this.

The Parks & Rec survey was mentioned. I would like to know how many people were surveyed, who they were/and how they picked them or got their contact information.

An Adopt-A-Park program was mentioned by the consultant. Evidently we don’t have one in Abilene and this sounded like an intruigingly good idea to me.

I have problems with a bond issue, because of the inherent debt of it. The positives of these though (bonds) appear to be a renewed or new, intangible and practical support for community-enriching activities like schools and parks.

Since money is limited, I think it’s better spent on improving city center parks.

One reason I think this is true is that populations in these areas are already underserved. Could acts of caring from the City, like repaired and functional, attractive parks, especially with community involvement to care for them, add certain intangible benefits like stronger neighborhoods, and therefore better property values and economic strength overall for Abilene? Wise development of parks could be one part of very sustainable infill development. When people see a pleasant neighborhood that was formerly more derelict and full of trash, they start to move into town instead of out to the suburbs, therefore using, improving and renovating already-built structures.

However, I’ve just found out about “retrofitting” the suburbs as well (view the TED talk here). So maybe there might be options for this in the south part of town, and we could have both – instead of either/or. “Re-greening” is another interesting concept.

I’m also slowly coming to understand that because there are gigantic potholes or weeds it doesn’t mean we can’t deal with those, and still enjoy a park. Actually some of them might damage a car… Again, I wonder if there are community-involvement solutions that would solve cost problems and enhance the feeling of ownership for residents/neighbors.

One suggestion from a resident was to install more convenient trash cans in a certain park. I see the point of this. It might help with littering, but the fact remains that it’s not a lack of trash cans that causes someone to toss garbage on the ground.

There were so many trash cans conveniently placed at an In’N’Out Burger restaurant where I was recently. These are all within sight of employees or customers at all times though.

Does the City face issues like vandalism, that make it not cost-effective to keep fixing and replacing things at a park that isn’t taken care of by neighbors, users?

The idea of a growing interest nationwide in indoor needs at parks, was an interesting one.

The consultant mentioned the popularity of indoor park options like climbing walls. I wonder if that large, empty furniture store on Buffalo Gap across from Better Burger could for instance be an option for this? This would be an example of retro-fitting – using already available land/structures, within which to create new facilities.

The Mockingbird and South branch libraries would be examples of this retro-fitting. Both are in locations in strip malls, which were previously used as stores.

A climbing wall could be an extremely desirable indoor recreational opportunity, in the extremely hot summer weather we have here

Another point however is that there are indoor places right now, which are apparently (according to some community members who were present, and my own observations) under-used, and/or with old equipment that needs updating/isn’t used/is broken.

I felt like the consultant was leaning towards building a big, new rec center here in Abilene. I didn’t observe that several of the residents present were immediately supportive of this idea. There were many who expressed interest in re-using existing buildings or facilities. There is the Cedar Creek Waterway project already that needs support – which was started and is maintained by residents, and is not a City program.

But, it’s good to have conversations about all of this.

The people present, in addition to the request for more trash cans, mentioned:

–       a wish for a bike path

–       a couple of active-duty men from Dyess expressed the wish to be involved with some kind of joint effort re-opening a Dyess rec facility. One thought there would be many on Dyess that could help with maintenance of the park, if the city would reactivate this facility. (I don’t know the details on this.)

–       community partnerships were mentioned for recreation opportunities in Abilene to be enhanced. McMurry has it’s tennis courts available for use (during non-school use times) by the public, for example. I think the open-to-the-public use of workout facilities at Wylie schools is another example.

–       Many community members expressed the wish for volunteer involvement to be used to improve things. The consultant mentioned that volunteers are sometimes unreliable and don’t show up when needed, which causes problems. [Although this could be a good point, I think a lot of this has to do with who and how is coordinating the volunteer efforts. I’ve been a part of a couple volunteer efforts here in town, where there were too many volunteers and not enough work to go around.]

–       a wish for a central place for communication about Parks & Rec activities (see below for their facebook page)

–       issues with events taking place at parks – and problems with restrooms being dirty or in bad repair, and lots of bees

–       a thought to break down big, new ideas and make them available at old rec centers

[The consultant mentioned that new rec centers are laid out “all different” from old ones. I’m thinking that there’s professional knowledge and trends here that he’s familiar with. I’m also thinking there’s probably a way to combine goals.]

–       use of old buildings for a rec center

–       intergenerational facilities

Although I think I see the value of a consultant as a fresh pair of eyes, I also wonder about them being limited because of not being from the area and not being intimately familiar with the unique in’s and out’s of each community.

There was a good turnout for the daytime public meeting that I attended, before the nighttime one that night, and people trickled through to add their opinions to the sheets of information attached to the walls around the room.

Again, I so appreciated and enjoyed the chance to meet with and see fellow community members here. I think these kinds of things are so valuable – where we can talk, listen and problem-solve face-to-face.

Judging by the turnout (each person present likely represents several others who are engaged and interested, but couldn’t make it to the meeting for one reason or another), there is a good number of respectful, creative and enthusiastic citizens in Abilene and the surrounding area who are ready and waiting to help make our Parks and Recreation opportunities the best possible.

https://www.facebook.com/myabileneparksandrec

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Discussion

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  1. Pingback: City University – {Parks, Libraries, Health Center, Civic Center} | Abilene Observer - July 21, 2014

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