On Tuesday we had our Commission Meeting. In that meeting the Parks Master Plan was presented by the consultant. The findings reflected the people's desires of what they most wanted to see out of the park system.
Much of this information was derived by asking people what they wanted to see. There is a problem of inclusiveness. The assumption is that if you ask people at a workshop that is given on a certain topic, those people who are there to give their opinion are those who are the most active within this particular topic. In the case of the parks, you are finding that those people who would be there are those who are the heaviest park users. This sort of problem is not exactly a new one, you're going to find it in any sort of survey, and many people simply hate surveys and won't answer.
How to get those who are not going to answer is a difficult problem for which I have no answer, and they may have a very different view. The question should be asked exactly why are they so disinterested? You may get a much more pertinent answer.
But that not withstanding, the parks plan came up with the Top Ten list of things that should be improved. These things are the ones that were recommended to be worked on within our limited budget. The budget can be expanded by creative grant applications as well, many other cities are doing so. A person should be brought onto the city staff who works on a partial commission basis in order to get grants for the city for Parks and other projects. Wilton Manors having so many volunteers and activists should not be lacking for opportunities to apply for grants to support.
The first thing that was said was that we are looking at a long term plan. I am fond of saying this is a marathon and not a sprint. We need to take the long view of this process and not just slap bandages on it. Needs must be assessed periodically and adjusted as demographics change. When changes happen a coherent plan must be addressed so that the result is the best one that we can manage.
Highest on the list was a profound lack of playgrounds. The city had few areas where children could play. Swings and slides were the sort of equipment that comes to mind in this case. Here was where a need came against a hard fact - we simply don't have enough room for this sort of thing within the existing parks. Our parks are chock full of "stuff" because we're a built up city. A recommendation was that we should purchase adjoining land where ever possible to allow for that sort of growth.
One thing that I keep hearing is that we are losing our sense of history. This was echoed within the Master Plan. Our parks can and should be used as a repository of our historical worth. This has been done throughout time and is something that is done within parks all over the world. The suggestion by Wilton Manors Historical Society President Diane Cline and echoed by Wilton Manors City Commissioner Scott Newton to house the old Fire Siren at Richardson Park is a good one. After all, Richardson's name is "Richardson Historical Park"... or something close.
Water is another item in the top needs list. We are surrounded by it. This is an island city and we are not adequately leveraging this. There are boat ramps but few areas where we can go play in the mud so to speak. The Middle River isn't all that deep but there are many people who kayak there. When I was a kid, I used to build sand castles in my yard next to the Cooper Creek in New Jersey next to the water with my sister. I'm sure that children these days still do that. Adults enjoy sitting on benches and watch the water float by. There are few opportunities to do that sort of thing here, there aren't many benches that face the water. There can be areas that will be cleared of weeds and made to be an attractive picnic ground on the esplanade near the river with minimum of expense.
The environment was mentioned. With the efficiency of LED lighting and the falling prices, we could easily include solar lighting to the grounds and move some of the lighting Off The Grid. There are Federal tax credits to do so. I would even take this one step further and consider an opportunity for a windmill or solar power generation installation on one of the parks as a "Pilot Project". This would be a chance for Wilton Manors to Shine for Solar Power (There you go Wilton Manors, have a slogan!) and sell back the power to FPL thereby lowering our bill. Florida Department of Transportation says that one of the highest expenses of maintaining the roads is the bill for electricity. We can easily generate enough power in this way. We can also build in a program of recycling where instead of having a dumpster stuck on Dixie Highway, large attractive bins can be installed at the parks and used as an chance to educate children and adults on the Life Cycle of a Glass Bottle and the like. We are a wasteful society, but we are learning to be a better one. The parks can help.
The flexibility of our parks were stressed. Mickel Field is an example that was brought up where we were doing the right thing. The park is a large open area where all sorts of sports can be performed without massive installations. The area can also be used for concerts, outdoor movies, and other festivals due to its location and availability.
Bike Trails should be added and upgraded where ever possible and with this sidewalks must be added. In order to make this truly a New Urbanist mecca, and a truly Pedestrian friendly city, we need to make sure that the sidewalks are wide and inviting with a large tree canopy. We need a network of bike trails all through the city. As a Skater, I would welcome a safe network of bike trails so that I could skate in my own city without driving to Pompano Beach. This network of trails would serve to tie the entire city together as a festival site. It would also allow us to be able to ditch the car and walk places.
Imagine that, Walking in South Florida!
Adding signs to tie it all together with LED solar lighting would give us an opportunity to strengthen our brand and let people know that they are somewhere special.
The raw numbers were not very promising. In order to do this, we would need to spend approximately 20 million dollars. At our current parks budget, we would take 78 years to complete all of this. I don't think many of you reading this will be around in 78 years and I'd like to see this happen quickly. Here is where the person working on obtaining grants would be able to cut this time down to something manageable so we don't have to worry about spending money when it isn't there.