A blog dealing with Sarasota County and the City of Sarasota.

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

If I were a Commissioner #3: Neighborhood Pocket Parks

I happen to believe every citizen in the urban and suburban areas should be able to walk to a park in five minutes. Not necessarily an ambitious park with a lot of developed facilities – if one like that is nearby; great. But it could simply be a place to walk to that neighbors can easily get to end enjoy; a place to walk a child in a stroller to, a place for teens to escape to when they need to slam a door and get out of the house, a destination for dog walkers and exercise walkers and a place to sit in the sun and watch squirrels and birds.

A noble goal, but one that is somewhere between elusive and infeasible at this point in time, due to the various reductions in county revenues. There simply isn’t the money to buy, develop, and maintain even a modest park within a 1,320 foot walk from most homes in the county.

So what can be done?? Do we need to abandon this vision or can we make progress despite real constraints?

First these “parks”, don’t have to be County or City parks. If a development already provides such spaces where neighbors can meet, there is no need to duplicate them.

Secondly, before we can we get all the way to "five minute parks" we would have ten and fifteen minute parks -- those more modest, intermediate goals will reduce the immediate costs.

Third, the vision for these truly neighborhood scale parks also needs to be modest -- not elaborate high-maintenance facilities, but simple flexible green space with some shade producing trees. I'm talking about places so modest that they are really only likely to attract neighbors.

Finally, I think we need a new vision for how county government interacts with neighborhoods in terms of parks. Here are some aspects of what I think is called for:

1) New neighborhood scale (“pocket”?) parks cannot be imposed on neighborhoods, but should only be pursued when there is demonstrated neighborhood support and interest.

2) Such parks should reflect specific expressed neighborhood goals. These goals can change in time.

3) The county needs to make it not only possible but also straightforward for neighborhoods to raise funds towards the acquisition of greenspace the benefits of which accrue nearly exclusively to that neighborhood.

4) The county and neighborhoods need to move more towards a partnership model where each party has more equal role, not a situation where government (at taxpayer expense) acts in a paternalistic manner; tending to tasks that neighbors could provide for themselves more locally, directly and cheaply than government. 

Am I sounding too libertarian, an Observer guest columnist in the making?

I don’t know, but I do know we’ll never control government costs if we suppose the role of government is to identify, obtain and provide everything citizens desire at government (taxpayer) expense. Government works best when it allows, or facilitates the means by which, citizens solve their own problems and meet their own needs. 

I think it is obvious that a regional recreation complex or a new road involves a level of organization that transcends neighborhoods, but a modest park doesn’t –people can do this on their own with minimal government involvement if they so choose and government gets out of their way. We need to be encouraging neighborhood associations and organizations to be more effective and more pro-active. 

NOSTALGIC ANECDOTE: Where I grew up a neighbor had a seven-acre parcel that he wasn’t really using. As the wave of post-war boomer babies grew into a small horde, the neighborhood fathers cleared the wilderness (mostly sumac as a recall) and created a modest, nowhere-near-regulation ball field in the midst of the wooded parcel. Six year olds got five outs and underhand pitches and a 16 year old at bat pushed every outfielder to the tree line. Hitting a long ball assured not only a run, but also up to twenty minutes looking for the lost ball, at which point we either resumed play or all went home resolved to return with another ball the next day.

There are numerous reasons why such things don’t happen nowadays, ranging from the lack of random seven acre parcels in the midst of planned suburbs, to liability issues, to more organized (and chauffeured) sports activities for kids. But there is really no reason why neighbors couldn’t mow a small park if they so chose.

1 comment:

  1. It's good to see that Mr. Miller sees parks as a destination for "dog walkers."
    At current, very few county parks allow leashed pets. Perhaps in the future, more county parks will be opened to those who want to enjoy the outdoors with their dogs.


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