Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Planning for Crystal City's Parks System

As we've covered in other posts, for Crystal City to become a 21st century community new approaches and new ways of thinking need to be introduced into our policy-making process. From our streets to our trees its time to update the way we do things. We at 2010 adamantly believe that the best way to achieve these goals is through an open, community driven planning process, conducted by a professional planning firm if appropriate or needed.

One of the most utilized city services is our parks. Crystal City has 4 (5 if you separate the north end and lake areas from the main park) parks in its system- Crystal City Municipal Park and Pool, Hickey White, Charlie Brown, and the little known Bird Sanctuary. When the park system was started, there was only 1 park (Municipal Park) to maintain. Today there are 4-- yet the funding for our parks remains at the same level as when it started almost 40 years ago. Our Park Board members have done a fantastic job maximizing every dollar in their very tight budget to keep our pool open and our parks clean and safe.

A 21st century community values and improves its parks rather than watching them barely get by year to year! Our Park Board has worked hard for years to make improvements to our parks despite a flat budget. Now its time for Crystal City to step up and give its parks a hand.

Our proposal: The City Council should offer funding to the Park Board for retaining a professional planning firm to aid in the drafting of a Park Master Plan.

1. Why a Park Master Plan?

Park planning is a process that helps establish long-term goals, priorities, and capital improvements for a parks system. Best of all, the ideas and direction comes from the citizens who pay for and use their parks every day! Think of it like this- you want to build a house. Would you just hire a construction crew to come in and start building it? Or would you go to an architect to design and plan first? Of course you'd want plans. So why would we expect anything less from our parks? In our analogy, the Plan is the blueprint, the Park Board is the construction firm, and the Parks Director is the actual builder. Once the plan is set the Park Board will work toward its goals and objectives with the Park Director carrying out daily tasks.

2. What would a Park Master Plan look like?

The final plan would be a document voted on by the Park Board that would contain maps, geographical information, and planned improvements laid out along with a general plan and schedule for implementation. Think of it like a blueprint-- it would show the park in the future after the plan has been implemented with images depicting planned improvements or changes. An excellent example of a Park Plan is the Fox Park Master Plan.

3. We're just a small town with a small park system. Its not like we're Forest Park or a big city. Why do we need a plan like this? Why should we spend the money on this when we could buy new swings or a new diving board?

These are questions we hear a lot- and they are fair questions to ask. No, Crystal City isn't a big city- but that doesn't mean we shouldn't have high standards for our city services. Crystal City's parks are dwarfed by Forest Park- but that doesn't mean we wouldn't benefit greatly from an open, community driven planning process designed to generate public input into the future of our parks system. Planning is a process that doesn't depend on city size. Crystal City is about to begin the process of updating its ancient Comprehensive/Master Plan. Just because we aren't a big city doesn't mean we shouldn't plan for our city's future-- parks included. Just because we could buy new swings doesn't mean we know the best place to locate them, the best type to buy, or how many to get. A Park Master Plan, written by a professional planning firm with input from the citizens that use our parks, will provide a blueprint for the future, agreed upon by consensus, that the Park Board members can then implement with confidence.

4. OK you've sold me. We need a plan! But where will we find the money to implement it? Or to pay the planning firm? You said it yourself-- the parks budget is too small!

The park budget IS far too small for its needs. We believe that the City Council should authorize money to be spent from the Parks, Stormwater, and Levee Maintenance fund that was approved by the voters approximately 10 years ago. Stormwater projects and levee maintenance projects have both received funds from this dedicated tax, but the park system never has. By funding a Parks Master Plan the City Council and Park Board will be making a sound investment in our park system's future. With a plan in hand, the Park Board can then come back to the City Council and other funding entities and request money or grants for specific projects that work toward plan implementation. These projects will not only have been created through citizen input, but they will also have been ranked by necessity. Both the City Council and Park Board will know that the money requested will be money well spent, helping to fulfill a community's goals and ideas about its park system.

The Crystal City parks system faces many challenges in its near future, from both a budgetary and a services/amenities provided perspective. In these times of change, now is the opportunity to budget some money, work with the public on a new Parks Master Plan, and make sure we're meeting the open-space needs of our community now and for the next generation.

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